Tadpole
dir. Gary Winick
Opens Fri July 26 at the Uptown.

Judging by the premise--precocious 15-year-old gets the hots for an older woman (who happens to be his stepmother, who happens to be played by Sigourney Weaver)--it doesn't seem improper to assume that Tadpole will hark back to the values of early '80s classics such as Private Lessons and My Tutor, films that understood the lusty pulse of suburban adolescence. No such (bad) luck, though; Tadpole is a witty, intelligent, and unsentimental coming-of-age comedy in which the aforementioned lustful projections are part of a much larger picture, and the lusty boy is a too-smart-for-his-own-good kid who learns a lesson about snobbery and poseurdom.

Oscar is a self-styled prep-school intellectual--the kind with a copy of Candide in his pocket at all times; the kind who speaks fluent French; the kind who shuns the attention of girls his own age because he longs for older, more experienced women of the world. This last dramatic conceit requires the biggest suspension, for two reasons: (1) Who ever heard of a 15-year-old brainiac shying away from a little redheaded hottie who thinks he's a badass? And (2) who ever heard of a little redheaded hottie who like-liked a 15-year-old brainiac? (I may be doing a bit of projecting myself....)

Regardless, Oscar's fondness for Weaver's Eve makes perfect sense. She's refined, obviously brilliant, worldly, and... married to his dad (John Ritter!), an effete history professor who is nonetheless Oscar's best bet for a male role model. Oscar's dilemma is that his teenage rebellion aims not to kill, but to emulate, the father. His consolation: He still gets to have sex with Eve's best friend (Bebe Neuwirth, any sane teenager's obvious first choice in the older woman department).

The best part about Tadpole--aside from its brevity--is that none of the characters merge into stereotypes, despite being part of an archetypal framework. The refreshing dramatic ingenuity wrings genuine pleasure from what could have been mere wish fulfillment.

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