Here’s something you don’t see everyday: A whimsical teen comedy with adult complexity shot on digital video. Ever wonder what it might look like if Garry Marshall (“Pretty Woman”) collaborated on a movie with Lars Von Trier (Dancer in the Dark, “Breaking the Waves”)? Well, if it was anything like “Tadpole”, then it might not be too bad.
“Tadpole” is the childhood nickname of Oscar Grubman (Aaron Stanford). Now fifteen-years-old, we find him at the start of the film returning home to New York City from boarding school for Thanksgiving break with his best friend Charlie (Robert Iler). The girls seem to dig him, after all he’s charming, charismatic, speak fluent French, and has an obsession with Voltaire. Unfortunately for the young ladies Oscar also has an obsession with his stepmother, Eve (Sigourney Weaver). Currently being ignored by the boy’s workaholic history professor dad (John Ritter), Oscar believes he can give the woman what she needs. As it turns out, he’s just as like to give Eve’s best friend Diane (Bebe Neuwirth) what she needs. Hilarity and adolescent confusion ensue.
What we have here is an amazing accomplishment on the part of writers Heather McGowan and Niels Mueller and particularly director Gary Winick. The fact that this team, which includes director of photography Hubert Taczanowski and editor Susan Littenberg, were able to craft something so light, fun, and complex is just stunning. “Tadpole” is a real step forward for the digital video revolution which to date has been dominated by anguished “Dogma 95” or similar productions. On the flipside, the result is never as cloying or shallow as your typical Garry Marshall opus, either. The characters always receive respect, if not an easy path. Weaver, Neuwirth, and Ritter are all in fine form, too, though the real standout is newcomer Stanford who makes the kind of debut that can only be compared among his contemporaries to that of Jason Schwartzman in “Rushmore”. He’s that good. He’s in luck too, because of all the DV features produced to date, this is the first to be truly accessible to the public on a mass level. You know, it’s the first real DV date film. No, “Tadpole” is not a film that will change your life. It instead proves that shooting your movie with cheap technology doesn’t mean it can’t be fun or entertaining. In the end, that’s enough.