" It's the quintessential rental. "
Title: Tadpole by Miramax Home Entertainment
Format: Comedy DVD
Reviewing Monkey: Genghis Kong
The Hype: Billed as "a seductively irreverent coming of age comedy," Tadpole stars Aaron Stanford (X2's Pyro) in his feature film debut, as well as such well-known talent as Sigourney Weaver (Aliens, Heartbreakers), Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers, Liberty Heights) and the late John Ritter (8 Simple Rules, Sling Blade). A romantic comedy with an unusual twist and a talented castů this sounds like a job for Genghis Kong. Now follow along and see what the Conqueror Ape discovered.
What This Monkey Thought...
Story and Acting: Aaron Stanford plays Oscar Grubman, a suave, intelligent fifteen-year-old with a taste for older women--specifically his stepmother Eve (Sigourney Weaver). As he returns home from his prep school for Thanksgiving, he plans out how he'll win her affections from his workaholic historian father (Ritter). Despite his unusual social maturity, Oscar's attempts at catching Eve's eye miss their mark, and instead strike Eve's 40-something best friend Diane (Neuwirth), who sleeps with Oscar in a drunken tryst. While Diane revels in her dalliance with Oscar, he himself sees it as a distraction in his unrelenting pursuit of Eve, and eventually the truth of Oscar's relationship with Diane is revealed--albeit at a most inopportune time. Undaunted, Oscar continues to pursue Eve, his efforts ultimately ending in a most unexpected fashion. The story may not seem revolutionary (in fact it seems eerily like Wes Anderson's Rushmore), but the plot moves in interesting directions, and the dialogue is clever and intriguing, holding the viewer's attention even during otherwise slow scenes. Stanford is nothing short of incredible in his performance, playing fifteen to the hilt despite being twenty-three during filming. His portrayal of Oscar is realistic and honest, painting him as a brilliant and sensitive teenager who, despite being quite mature for his age, falls prey to standard teenage insecurities and shortsightedness, and is (despite his own belief) still far short of adulthood. Neuwirth is likewise captivating as Diane, illustrating the equal parts regret and freedom of a single 40-year-old woman out for fun but still unhappy with her free lifestyle. Ritter gives a warm and open performance as Stanley Grubman, showing a talent and paternal charisma which would be underutilized throughout his career until his much-lauded performance in Eight Simple Rules, which would be too little too late due to his unfortunate early demise. Sigourney Weaver plays the conservative and mild Eve quite well, though her character seems to lack the depth attempted by the script, and it isn't entirely obvious why Oscar is so smitten by her. Weaver nevertheless pulls off the role of the sensitive and intelligent stepmother with aplomb. The only real problem with the film is that it is billed as an uproarious comedy, but is in fact more of a comedic drama. There are precious few sidesplitting laughs, and the melancholy edge of the film doesn't really lend itself to much humor. Likewise difficult to swallow is the annoying social double-standard involved: if a 15-year-old boy has a sexual relationship with a 40-year-old woman, it's an amusing coming-of-age story, but if you reverse the roles so it's a teenage girl and a middle-aged man, it's a shocking and scandalous travesty. This doesn't hurt the acting or the plot so much as it bruises the believability of the story, though to be fair this is a double-standard which many take for granted and few even notice. Tadpole is nevertheless an entertaining film worth seeing, sporting a talented cast and sophisticated dialogue. 3.5 of 5.
Visuals and Directing: Gary Winick filmed Tadpole in a rough indy-film fashion, with intentionally inexact camera work and somewhat fuzzy and weathered visuals (once again reminiscent of Wes Anderson's Rushmore). This style adds to the film's mood and enhances the realism of the scenes, which appear more natural and less artificial than your standard Hollywood fare. The movie is slow-paced but doesn't drag, a testament to its editing and the strength of the script. There are no real special effects, but the film doesn't require them, seeing as it's a love story leaning more on dialogue than action. It isn't an impressive film so much as it is a film with a very realistic feel, and in this Winick succeeds with his intentions. The film is also surprisingly short (78 minutes), making it the movie equivalent of a magazine article. 3.5 out of 5.
DVD Extras: The DVD is rather slim on Special Features, including only Director Commentary and noticeably missing Deleted Scenes and other interesting tidbits. This film is, unfortunately, not one where watching Director Commentary seems to be worth the time investment, and so it falls woefully flat in this category. When will DVD distributors learn that Director Commentary is not a Special Feature, and that you need to pack more onto a DVD than a film for people to think it worth buying? If I wanted a straight-up movie, my monkeys, I'd buy it VHS and save myself 2/3 the cost. 1 out of 5.
Value vs. Price: $27 is a little much to ask of a film that's got no special features, wasn't a big budget movie, and lasts only 78 minutes. Don't get me wrong, Tadpole is an amusing and pleasant film, but it's not a $27 movie by any stretch, and not a "must have" film at all. The recent trend in DVDs seems to be overpricing them and then having some sort of blowout sale where they're half price, which is the price they should have been to begin with. Tadpole is worth about half as much as the asking price, but only because the asking price is so steep. It's the quintessential rental. 1.5 out of 5.
|Tadpole was pretty good, and well made for its style, but it falls flat in the end because of its high price tag and low special features. It is a very standard film, which means it makes a somewhat poor DVD as far as permanent purchases go. I suppose that's pretty standard for an off-Hollywood film, but Tadpole could have done much better with proper marketing.|
The Good: Excellent dialogue, standout performances, and impressive realism.
The Bad: No special features and an inexplicably expensive retail cost.
The Overall Ugly: A movie worth seeing, if not exactly worth purchasing.
What it's Worth: Rental, but definitely that.