The spawny little get. Enjoy the philosophical meanderings of a young ladies man in this unexpectedly charming romp.

Released in 2002, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 03 Jul 2003 by Craig Eastman
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Anyone who found themselves subjected to the arty and 'arsey' travesty that was Full Frontal might have seen the trailer for Tadpole and immediately assumed the worst; I certainly did. Shot on shaky handheld DV, as is currently de riguer, it's the tale of a womanising, middle class Manhattan 15 year-old called Oscar Grubman, AKA 'Tadpole', and it should be a self-conscious mess of indulgent Hollywood 'Luvvie' back-slapping. Only it isn't...

Oscar (newcomer Aaron Stanford) is a peculiar young chap. The middle-class son of Manhattan history lecturer Stanley Grubman (an unusually pleasing turn from old hand John Ritter), he's fifteen years old but by his own admission feels about forty. He likes his philosophy does our Oscar, particularly the works of Voltaire, but he is most certainly not interested in girls. Oh no. Rather, Oscar prefers women; women with world-weary hands, and in particular his step mother Eve (Sigourney Weaver). Eve is an attractive, elegant middle-age doctor and the embodiment of female desire for Oscar. Having just returned from Europe, Oscar decides he is going to tell Eve exactly how he feels despite warnings from his friend Charlie (Robert Iler) and the dubious advances of Eve's best friend Diane (a stunning Bebe Neuwirth).

A riveting plot it is not. I was absolutely loathing the prospect of going to see this, but since the lads had seen just about everything else going that weekend while I was away camping 5 miles from the nearest house in the middle of Craik Forest, it only seemed fair I be made to suffer this apparent travesty upon my return (as if the midges weren't enough). Lo, it was with a heavy heart and painful memories of Soderbergh's bum-chum opus that I took a seat, and I was fully prepared to walk had Tadpole been anything less than extremely competent. Let me say now that if there's one thing I hate about being me, it's how incredibly and frequently wrong I am.

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Tadpole does not feature any exploding cars, naked women, 5.1 enhanced gunfights, gratuitous sex, wanton violence or entirely CG characters. It is also exponentially better than any film this year featuring any of the above (X2 aside). That it works is due mainly to uniformly excellent performances from each and every member of the cast. There's not a weak link here at all, with even Ritter managing a far less amateur performance than usual. There is one particularly strong performance though, and that is leading man Stanford (and I do mean leading man). In a stunning debut, he manages to take a character who by all rights should repel most sane people (well-off, educated, philosophising, overly-mature; yuk...) and turn him into a genuinely endearing individual and downright fascinating character.

It's hard not to want to know what's going on inside this lad's head, from wandering drunk through the Manhattan streets one minute to being seduced by Diane the next and having a forty-something conversation with a barroom drunk inbetween, one never quite knows what to make of the little chap. His fascination with Eve is wonderfully played out, and a great dynamic develops between Oscar and Diane once he informs her of his longing for her friend. Likewise things take an interesting turn when Eve herself finds out about Oscar and Diane, but we wouldn't want to spoil any standout moments now, would we?

If there's one criticism I can think to level it's that the dynamic between Oscar and his father isn't really explored enough for my liking. Having said that, at just under 80 minutes Tadpole never outstays it's welcome, and is mercifully shorter than a lot of other films with much more pretentious ambitions and a whole lot less charisma. Exploring too many relationships is here sacrificed for a much more pacey atmosphere, and I think it may well have been for the best.

The next time Steven Soderbergh fancies picking up his $800 JVC toy to produce pompous tosh nobody in their right mind would enjoy, he would do well to check out director Winick's effort here, as he really could pick up a few vital tips. Tadpole has restored my faith in indie budget pictures by refusing to follow all of the self-indulgent signposts so many others fall foul of and producing a simple, well-structured, consummately performed treat that plays lightly with your moral sensibility and provides many a laugh along the way thanks to a frequently razor-sharp script. Hopefully Stanford will keep a sensible head on his shoulders when the big-shots inevitably come knocking on his door on the strength of this performance. He's a talented lad alright, but he doesn't really suit the dog-hair sideburns.

Craig Disko has awarded Tadpole 4 out of 5 Arbitrary Disko Units and stands so utterly, utterly corrected.

Alan Smithee
Cast list:
Aaron Stanford (Oscar "Tadpole" Grubman)
John Ritter (Stanley Grubman)
Sigourney Weaver (Eve Grubman)
Bebe Neuwirth (Diane)