The first thing we’re told at the beginning of Miramax’s much-hyped

new film, Tadpole, is

that it’s "a film by" Gary Winick. (He also, of course, gives

himself a "directed by" credit a couple of minutes further

on.) Later in the film, our young hero, Oscar Grubman, is feeling upset.

We know this because he’s filmed staring moodily out over the East River,

first in long shot, then in medium shot, then in close-up. We then see

him staring moodily out past the Rose Planetarium, before watching him

walking moodily through an autumnal Central Park. Meanwhile, the soundtrack

is "The Only Living Boy in New York". Oscar Grubman himself

could have done better.

Suffice to say, this film, for all its witty writing, is not a directorial

triumph, and the pretentious opening credit is far from justified. Winick’s

success in selling this film to Miramax and getting nationwide distribution

is largely despite his efforts and not because of them: in that he mirrors

his protagonist, who finds himself in bed with the stunning Bebe Neuwirth

not because of his obnoxious behaviour but rather because Bebe sees

right through it to the eager puppy underneath.

The film is certainly eager to please, and Neuwirth relishes her role

even more than she does her dinner at Cafe Boulud. But other major characters,

including the lead, are less well drawn: why would a boy with a French

mother and American father insist on speaking French the whole time

in New York? And why would his square American father barely react when

he finds out his wife’s best friend has just seduced his 15-year-old


Of course, Tadpole is not a meditation on bohemian Upper East Side

adolescence in the manner of Six

Degrees of Separation or even Everyone

Says I Love You. Rather, it’s a comedy about a kid who, for all

his ability to quote Voltaire at will, knows nothing of love. Tadpole’s

problem is that it’s so lightweight it doesn’t let anything bad happen

to any of the characters: everybody ends the film happier than when

they started. To turn the film’s beloved Voltaire on his head, all really

is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

There are other weaknesses, too. Multiple quotations from Voltaire

in the form of white-on-black intertitles are a grave mistake. And the

film quality is appalling, despite Miramax reportedly spending about

five times the budget of the film in attempting to get a workable print

from the DV original. Films shot on DV never look particularly good

in theatres, but with enough love and a high enough budget, they can

rise to the level of OK. (For example, The

Anniversary Party or Dancer

in the Dark.) Unfortunately, the success of these films seems to

have given aspiring filmmakers license to scrimp much more than is acceptable:

just because it’s possible to shoot DV in low-light conditions doesn’t

mean it’s a good idea.

If you still feel that you really want to see a good comedy with Sigourney

Weaver, my advice is that you get the underrated

Heartbreakers out on video or DVD. The picture quality will be just

as good, and you’ll get a rollicking good story with a great cameo from

Gene Hackman. In the snobbish world of New York media, Tadpole gets

respect just for being a low-budget independent film, while Heartbreakers

is ignored as Hollywood fodder. Don’t make the same mistake: there’s

no doubt as to which is the better movie.

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