Tadpole

A perky comedy about a teenager in lust. Shot in two weeks on digital video, for $150,000, Tadpole won a deserved Sundance award for director Gary Winick and took home a $5 million distribution deal from Miramax. Not bad for an incest comedy about a fifteen-year-old preppy who fantasizes about his fortyish stepmom — think Oedipus Rex meets The Graduate with a stop-off at Rushmore.

Aaron Stanford is a terrific find as Oscar Grubman, that rare teen who can quote Voltaire and speak fluently in French about the most telling feature in a woman: No dirt, please, it's her hands. Home from school to spend Thanksgiving in Manhattan with his history-professor dad, Stanley (John Ritter), Oscar only has eyes for the hands of Eve (Sigourney Weaver), the scientist Stanley married after he and Oscar's mom — now living in Paris — divorced.

What's Oscar to do with his forbidden urges? Eve's chiropractor friend Diane (Bebe Neuwirth) pops him up on her examining table to work out the kinks. They have sex, mostly because Diane wears a scarf borrowed from Eve still fragrant with her perfume. Oscar nearly swoons from inhaling it. (Note to the jailbait police: Stanford is a twenty-five-year-old college grad from Rutgers; he's just playing fifteen.)

Winick is expert at mining the sinfully funny script by Niels Mueller and Heather McGowan. The film's highlight is a dinner for four at an elegant restaurant with Oscar in a raw panic that Diane will blurt out his shame to his father and Eve. The scene is a howl, and Neuwirth nails every laugh.

It's a tribute to Tadpole that it succeeds just as well in its tender moments. Credit Weaver, who handles Eve's mixed emotions about her stepson's romantic fantasies with sensitivity and humor. The kiss the two share, sparked by Eve's frustration with her marriage, roots the film in feeling as well as laughs. Tadpole may be small, but it's something special — a cheeky comedy knockout.

From The Archives Issue 902: August 8, 2002