Cinema Signal:

Life in the Modern World
(For Sophomores)
by Mark Link
. "Tadpole"

Insofar as a tadpole is the larval stage of a frog, and insofar as it's meant to entitle the central character of this coming-of-age story, we can't take the meaning as literal for a student son home for the Thanksgiving holiday with such forbidden love on his mind.

Oscar Grubman (Aaron Stanford), eldest son of Columbia history professor Stanley (John Ritter) and his 2nd wife Eve (Sigourney Weaver), a doctor, has no eyes for fellow student, very cute Miranda Spear (Kate Mara) who clearly is breathlessly interested in him. Instead, the precociously maturing Oscar, a student of Voltaire (whose quotations pepper the movie's episodes) envisions himself with his father's new wife, no less. Best friend Charlie (Robert Iler, fresh from "The Sopranos" and a Los Angeles courtroom), a man grounded in the practical and the attainable isn't going along with Oscar's unnatural preferences.

Dad Stanley is too immersed in his own academic affairs to take any notice of his son's keen interest in his wife, taking the attentions as a nice acceptance of the change in the marital situation. Nor is he aware of Eve's discontent stemming from his overconcentration on work. Oscar has accepted his new mom. That's nice. Everybody's happy in this well nourished, urban family. Yeah.

So, one chilly night, Oscar is out lingering on the street when Eve's best friend Diane (Bebe Neuwirth) comes waltzing along on her way home and the ever alert young man picks up that she's wearing Eve's red scarf. Diane takes the boy home with her (so that he can return the scarf to its rightful owner when its function as a chill warder is fulfilled?) and the magnetic aura of the scarf leads the boy into Diane's bed where he grips it tightly while it holds him enthralled in the fantasy that he's making love with Eve.

Saucy seducer Diane isn't dwelling on the kid's grasp of the scarf or on the meaning it has for him, but the seduction does serve to add complexity to the boy's quest, and some comedic moments as behaviors change and fantasies get acted out. Oscar woos Eve, a doctor, by bringing lunch to her as she does some weekend work in the laboratory. What a thoughtful boy.

Until Diane reveals what has happened between herself and Oscar, Eve thinks of Oscar only in terms of trying to be there for him as a replacement mom. But Diane's free-spirited take on what's going on gets Eve's mind working, and it goes into an overdrive of confusion when Oscar finally comes to the point of making his move on her.

Performance-wise, Stanford holds his own as he balances hormonal attraction with fatal misdirection always retaining the possibility of age-appropriate redemption. Weaver is up to her graceful and classy best; Iler serves his purpose admirably; and Ritter could have been replaced with any other middle aged attractive male actor.

The story, slyly reminiscent of predecessors including "The Graduate", makes its own mark not only because 15-year old Oscar isn't one, but through a style of effervescent charm, a lighthearted script crafted by screenwriters Niels Mueller and Heather McGowan and tightly directed (78 minutes!) by Gary Winnick for laughs stemming from human foibles -- a comedy of errors in modern terms. And, even Shakespeare would have been overwhelmed with delight at so impertinent a performance by an actor as that of Bebe Neuwirth's whose bawdy antics and self-gratifying acceptance of lust steals the movie!

If there are any reasons for you to see this movie --and there are several-- put her at the top of your list.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Bebe Neuwirth, Aaron Stanford, Sigourney Weaver, home for the holiday
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