It Came from the Bargain Bin: Tadpole

Before I dig into this retro (!) review, let me first explain something. See, back when I was in my early 20s in New York City, I had a day job where I entered DVD and VHS release information into a database that then got sold to companies who needed databases of information like this, like Tower Records. You remember record stores… right?

Anyway, naturally, this meant that the company I was working for had a pretty close relationship with both the major and the minor video distributors and studios. This also means that from time to time, they would send us screener copies of movies that are about to come out on DVD and/or VHS. These copies got passed around the office and housed somewhere until the day someone got sick of seeing them in their cubicle and put them in the breakroom for anyone to take. That’s how I got a hold of a review copy of Tadpole and that’s when I decided to write a DVD review. I’ve cleaned it up since then, but for the most part, I have not looked at this since I first wrote it in 2004.

© Miramax Films

Directed by Gary Winick
Starring: Aaron Stanford, Bebe Neuwirth, Sigourney Weaver, John Ritter
Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, mature thematic elements and language

For my review, I first went through the previews on the Tadpole DVD. As this movie was released by Miramax, I was expecting to see trailers for movies I’d never seen before and will not likely ever see again, and I was right. First up was a trailer for Ordinary Decent Criminal, which I can best describe as “Keyser Soze Meets Lester Burnham in Ireland”. Except, I couldn’t tell that it was set in Ireland until I went to the IMDB to get the link for it.

Next up was Tangled, which sounds like something I might actually see on a Dumb Movie Night because it features a slashtastic, creepy threesome of alluring late-twenty-somethings playing younger and “how their friendship went wrong”. The best part is that one of the actors looks very much like Shawn Ashmore of X-Men fame, which makes imagining him in a torrid threesome that much more possible.

The last trailer was for a multiple film festival award winner and nominee, by a director I’d never heard of named Time Out. That is, I think that this link goes to the right movie, because there are no lines from the movie at all in the trailer, just music. I kinda miss the days when trailers were made like this.

The credits roll, and it’s an honest to goodness actual “credit roll” instead of the brief opening titles and rush into action that we get from so many movies and TV series these days. Damn you, Jerry Seinfeld! We open on a scene of young “teens” on a train from upstate New York heading into the City for Thanksgiving break. The star of our picture is Aaron Stanford, who I just learned is also Pyro from the second X-Men movie. But his character’s name is Oscar—an obvious nod to that faboo wit Oscar Wilde. Which makes Oscar’s constant quoting and adoration of Jean Voltaire all the more weird. One thing that’s weird about this movie is that scenes are opened and closed with relevant quotes from Voltaire. I got all of them written down, but I’ll only include them in the review if I think they’re funny—which many of them were not.

Oscar and his sidekick Charlie are talking about a girl in their class named Miranda, more specifically her hands. Oscar believes that Miranda’s are too young, that they haven’t seen enough life. Charlie thinks he’s insane, as one is when you’re a 15-year old boy and obsessing about old women’s hands. The aforementioned teen hottie passes the duo going down the aisle and talks to Oscar, which makes Charlie comment behind her back that she’s hot for Oscar’s bod. Oscar replies that he’s in love with someone else, and hopes to tell her so over Thanksgiving break.

We montage from Grand Central Terminal to outside Oscar’s apartment building, which is patrolled by the surliest white doorman ever, Jimmy. He says something surly and Oscar asks if Eve is home. Jimmy replies that she’s not, and that she said she’ll be back later. Wow, that was extremely helpful and kinda creepy. I now know that all I need to get pertinent information about the comings and goings of rich Manhattanites is to find the surliest doorman standing outside their buildings. I won’t even need to bribe them!

We go upstairs to Oscar’s apartment, where there’s a party going on, hosted by his dad, John Ritter. Let me just say right now that I really miss John Ritter and he was totally underused here. I mean, he’s the king of physical comedy and big reactions, and what does he do here? Play an absent-minded, fuzzy, sweater-wearing, fully-bearded Columbia University (I think) historian. He only gets to do one spit take in this movie! That is such a crime.

There’s lots of witty, urbane banter between fellow professors and one in particular who has a teenage daughter who also seems to be hot for Oscar’s bod. But since her hands are fresh and dewy rather than toughened, wrinkled, and well-worn, he gives her a pass. There’s more banter, there’s more shots of Oscar roaming the party aimlessly, looking for the woman he loves, when lo! the romantic strains of a love theme fill the room and we spy Sigourney Weaver taking off her coat in the foyer. Hearts, puppies, flowers—it’s all there and that’s when we also find out that Sigourney Weaver is Eve and that she’s Oscar’s stepmother! Dammit! Just when I was getting ready to indulge in some glorious Oedipal action. I guess even director Gary “13 Going on 30” Winick wasn’t willing to go that far.

There’s another scene in the kitchen that introduces Bebe Neuwirth as Diane, Eve’s best friend who also happens to be a chiropractor. I’ve always loved Bebe Neuwirth ever since her days with Cheers, and when I learned that she also did musical comedy theater, I fell more deeply in love. Hence, when I tell you that Bebe Neuwirth speaking French (in a scene that’s obviously designed to show the audience that both she and Oscar know how to speak it) is the sexiest thing ever filmed, you’ll understand exactly what I mean. Oh, and I’m not sure where and when we find out that Oscar’s part-French, but I’m going to put this info in this paragraph because it kinda fits.

We skip right over the dinner itself and right to John Ritter trying to fix his son up with the other professor’s daughter by asking Oscar to walk her home to her apartment, a little over six blocks away. This scene was a bit of a gem because Oscar begins a little rant about how he’s tired, he’s been traveling all day, hasn’t unpacked and “I’m not going to stand around and argue about this.” Which of course leads to the next scene being him and the daughter outside at night.

(As a former New York City-resident let me just say that even if they were going across the island rather than up and down, six blocks really isn’t all that far to walk. Plus, I think that they’re definitely the shorter blocks rather than the longer ones.)

He sidesteps her attempts at conversation and pulls a classic manuever that I didn’t think a 15-year old kid knew about by calling a cab, shoving some money through the partition and giving the cabbie directions to her place. His next stop is a bar, where he and another barfly share some bitter words about women over whiskey. This is where my suspension of disbelief flew right out the window. If I’m supposed to believe that Aaron Stanhope is a 15-year old boy and react accordingly throughout the entire movie, then you’re not supposed to sidetrack me by also making me believe that he looks old enough not to get carded in a bar. If there’s supposed to be some big taboo about him being so young in the movie, don’t ruin it by making him do stuff like drink whiskey in a bar! You’ve got some directorial balls, right Mr. Winick? Use them!

Oscar’s hand fetish kicks into overdrive when he spies The Incredible Hot Tattooed Lady at the bar and attempts to pick her up by saying, “You have the most loveliest hands.” There’s even a close-up of them. This is starting to make me feel creepy because I am suddenly reminded of a guy I knew in high school who professed to have an elbow fetish. He was on the trivia team and in my French class, too. Of course, my nerdy young self was hot for him. I do not need to start feeling hot for Pyro (no pun intended).

Alas, we don’t see what happened next because the next shot is Oscar wandering down the street drunk, looking in shop windows. He encounters Diane, and the following conversation takes place:

Oscar: My wallet was stolen.
Diane: You were mugged?
Oscar: Well, sort of.
Diane: What do you mean, ‘sort of’?
Oscar: She was very pleasant about it.

Diane takes pity on Oscar and takes him back to her place where she of course has a massage table set up because she’s a chiropractor, you know. I want to know exactly where in Manhattan she lives where she’s able to fit a massage table in her living room. He notices that Diane’s wearing Eve’s scarf, then flops down on the table—as one does when they’re drunk. She takes that to mean that he wants a back massage—as one does—and starts working on him. Diane also manages to get him to take his shirt off because it’s allegedly easier for her to work on his back if he’s topless. Whatever. I’ve used that line—and have been given that line—several times before.

She must be a pretty good chiropractor, because instead of hearing the sound of cracking and creaking bones, we hear Oscar’s moans. Winick even helpfully includes a few reaction shots from beneath the table looking up at Oscar’s face through the hole in the head pillow. My notes are calling this Stanhope’s “toilet bowl orgasm face”. Of course he sees the long end of her scarf hanging down and I’m screaming inside because didn’t Isadora Duncan die because of a long scarf hanging down? But this isn’t a horror flick, it’s a slice-of-life-while-coming-of-age-and-having-teen-angst flick, so Oscar sits up abruptly buries his face in her neck. They embrace and kiss and then… fade to black.

The next morning finds Oscar in Diane’s bed, a position I would heartily give my eyeteeth to be in, if I still had them. Or I’d steal someone else’s eyeteeth and use those. I’m flexible. He tries to sneak out and gets caught by Diane’s Hick Boyfriend (played by Hey! It’s That Guy Adam LeFevre–a “Mr. Cellophane”-kind of actor if there ever was one). He surprises him with this line of dialogue, “She’s fantastic, isn’t she?” And they say guys never talk shop about sex. But no, this is a standard movie cliche where one character’s dialogue makes another character think that he has discovered an awful secret when really the first character is really talking about something innocuous, like his chiropractor girlfriend having scheduled a guy for back massage therapy on the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever recall any of my doctors having any kind of office hours the day after Thanksgiving, not even the pediatric urologist. And besides, what the hell is a glamorous gal like Diane doing with a guy like him? He must be rich or something. We know it’s not the size of his penis, because when Diane finally wakes up and walks Oscar to the door, and he’s frantically telling her not to say anything about what happened to the HB because, “[Hick Boyfriend]’s bigger”, Diane gets a delicious look on his face and says, “Actually he’s not.” Oh, Diane. I think I fell in love with you a little bit more.Oscar goes home and tries to bluff his way out of talking to John Ritter, who’s been waiting for him. Oscar wants nothing more than to go to his room and jerk off to the smell of his stepmom’s scarf jerk off to the smell of his stepmom’s scarf, but John Ritter displays a bit of fatherly non-absentmindedness and drags his son off to the supermarket for some manly conversation.I squealed with delight when I saw the next shot because they showed them walking out of a Fairway, one of Manhattan’s many gourmet supermarkets. I totally love that store because it lets me indulge in my inner food snob and the inner wine geek who cries every time I mix vodka with other various liquids and call it a lovely drink. I’d like to think it’s their Broadway location because it’s in the 70s and the other professor’s daughter was going to a place in the 60s. Besides, I’ve been there and I can now say that not only have I gotten to interview John Ritter (as part of a press junket-y thing when “8 Simple Rules” was in its first season), but I sat one row over from him at a live show and walked in a location he made a movie in. You only wish you had as much John Ritter-karma.John Ritter manages to get Oscar to confess that he spent the night at a female friend’s house and when pressed for a name, blurts out, “Miranda Whatsherface.” John’s pleased, but Oscar just says that she’s not really the kind of a gal he goes for. I gotta hand it to John in this scene, because he’s at his fuzzy-headed best. There’s this great part where Oscar is maintaining that the girls he knows at school aren’t up to his intellect, and John replies like he’s offended, “Girls have things to say.”They go home, and Oscar gets the bright idea to go bring a picnic lunch to Eve at her office at work. Before that, though, he spies on her and stalks her at Central Park before following her to her office. What follows is the most cliched romantic montage ever. They’re flying a kite in the park, and then they’re riding one of those hansom cabs that patrol the Park perimiter, and then they’re riding the carousel. It’s enough to make your stomach spin.So he goes to her lab, and Eve’s pleasantly surprised. He brings out the little brown bag with a sandwich in it and a soda and she’s all like, “Oh, how nice of you to bring me lunch, OH STEPSON OF MINE IN WHOM I HAVE NO SEXUAL INTEREST AT ALL.” That’s okay, because I’m busy yelling at the screen, “Don’t eat in the lab! It’s so unsanitary!” What kind of medical scientist is she, anyway? They talk for a bit, and then Oscar reveals that he wants to go pre-med to become a doctor like her, and she’s all, “Why would you do that when you’re such a creative person? It’s not like YOU’RE ONLY DOING THIS TO GET CLOSER TO ME AND HAVE SOMETHING IN COMMON WITH ME.” They banter for a bit and she talks about the poetry of the heart (literally), but it becomes one of those scenes where the words take on a different meaning. Medical talk as foreplay, so to speak. That was kinda hot.

When he gets home, John Ritter mentions that they’re having dinner that evening (at a French restaurant, natch) and that Diane’s coming along. Panicked at the thought of his current love and his one-night stand in the same room together, Oscar first tries to get John to uninvite her, then tracks Diane down to the spot where she usually has lunch with her female friends and is greeted by a gaggle of fiendish female grins. He’s a bit put off at first, but they encourage him to sit down and talk for a while. One Voltaire title card later, he’s talking to them like they’ve been friends for years, and totally charming all the women. Their meal finished, the rest of the women get up to leave, and one of them gives him her phone number. Suspicious, Oscar asks Diane if she told her friends and she says yes. I don’t blame her one bit. He told her not to tell Eve or her Hick Boyfriend, but didn’t say anything about not telling anyone else. Tsk, should’ve closed that loophole, boy. He asks her not to say anything at dinner, and definitely not to get tipsy or anything like that and she agrees.

They banter about Eve for a bit and Diane reveals that Eve told her once that she’s not happy. She also reveals that when Eve was younger, she totally went for guys who had sideburns. This distresses and distracts Oscar so much that when he later goes over to Charlie’s place to make a set of fake sideburns, he cops to not just the fact that he’s in love with his stepmother, but that he had sex with an older woman. Charlie proves that he’s the goofy sidekick, not the jerk, by not asking how good Diane is in bed but instead freaking out about Charlie’s lust for Eve. The expression on his face is just perfect. He does get off one crack about Oscar being French and how the French have a different idea about family relations. I have no idea where that came from. I know I never learned that in all my four years of high school French class. It might have made class more interesting, though.

Oscar puts on the fake sideburns in the bathroom and there’s this awkward moment where Eve opens the door to the bathroom and sees him with his shirt off and a towel around his waist. But then she goes away, and then Oscar finishes jerking off to a fantasy of him and his stepmother getting it on in the bathroom getting ready. With his sideburns in place, they all walk to the restaurant for dinner with the guys walking behind the women and Oscar straining to hear their conversation, to see if Diane will keep up her end of the bargain. At the restaurant, more complications come up as Miranda Whatsherface and her family bump into John Ritter and Oscar at the coat check. Fuzzy John tries to talk to her father, but Oscar practically manhandles him away. He takes charge the instant they get to the table, ordering food for everyone in French, and trying to dissuade his father and Eve from getting wine with their meal.

His take-charge attitude totally gets on Diane’s nerves, because she instantly starts provoking Oscar by drinking wine. Ooh! Diane versus Oscar, round one… fight! Oscar’s toast. I’m proven right later on because If I’d been watching this on DVD with French subtitles turned on, I could have also learned a useful phrase when Oscar tells Diane in French, “Get your foot out of my crotch, please.” John tries to tell Eve and Diane about Miranda, and Oscar gets more weird. Diane drinks more and most likely starts doing more stuff with Oscar’s crotch.

It’s a wonderful tableau of comic uneasiness, and then Diane gets up to go to the bathroom. Oscar follows her to confront her on her behavior and Diane’s all, “Whatever,” and plants a long, deep kiss on his mouth. Which is seen by John because there’s this weird mirror near the hallway to the bathroom and he sees them in the reflection. Oscar gets back to the table first and then Diane gets back, and there on her cheek is one of Oscar’s fake sideburns. He leans over and rips it off of her face, prompting Eve to ask what’s going on, or what’s wrong, or something like that. John Ritter lets it drop that he saw them kissing and asks what’s going on. Oscar tries to lie about it, but Diane says it outright that they’re lovers. There’s an outraged silence from Eve, embarrassment from Oscar, some sort of satisfaction from Diane, and another John Ritter moment where he mentions that in Rome, there were some 50-year old women who had affairs with younger men. Eve says, “This isn’t Rome!” Diane says, “I am nowhere near 50!”

Eve and Diane walk in the park the next day to talk about it, and Diane says stuff about how sometimes you just gotta take happiness in the hands, or by the cock, or something like that. It must not have been that important, because I didn’t take any notes on that part other than the fact that when she takes the subway to the club where she’s supposed to meet up with Oscar for a tennis match, she’s waiting at the 79th St. station on the 1/9 line. I am totally obsessed with figuring out where in Manhattan they live.

What follows next is one of the best sequences ever. Oscar’s monologuing to the camera, like he’s practicing a speech, trying to explain what’s going on and tell her he loves her. This is intercut with scenes of Eve and Oscar playing tennis, and she’s being pretty vicious in her attacks. Finally, she smacks him a good one with the tennis ball, and he pitches over backwards. Cut back to Oscar, who now revealed to have a bump on his head, and Eve comes in with ice for it. I totally loved how that played out. It’s the best scene/sequence in the movie. They don’t talk much at all, just revel in the delicious strained silence.

Then, it’s back to Charlie’s place, where Oscar angsts some more about what to do. This scene really isn’t that important, but it does end on a great note when towards the end, Charlie’s mom comes in with a plate of cookies and milk. Charlie thanks his mom, and then notices a look on Oscar’s face, and says, “Stick to your own mom, will ya?”

Oscar goes home and finds Eve alone. The tension rises, and some other things possibly rise, too. She fixes him a plate for dinner and they talk. It’s when Oscar reveals that the only reason he turned to Diane was because she was wearing Eve’s scarf and it smelled like her that she finally gets it. Sigourney Weaver really sells this reveal. How else are you supposed to react when you find out your stepson only slept with your middle-aged best friend because then he could imagine he was sleeping with you? Eve says she loves Oscar’s dad, Oscar counters that Diane said she wasn’t happy. What kind of argument for incest is that? He finishes his food, and she goes into the kitchen to wash the plate, and he kisses her. On the mouth. I’m not sure if there was tongue, but I’m going to go ahead and imagine that there was. Her reaction? Put the plate down and walk away. I guess this means that even if you’re more endowed than a Manhattan hick, you still might not get the girl.

Cut to the next day, and John Ritter and Eve are seeing Oscar off at the train station. They talk about the next vacation plans, and John Ritter reveals that they’re shipping Oscar off to France to be with his biological mother while he and Eve go to the Carribbean for a vacation. I sense an inappropriate sequel idea and try to scrub it from my mind. I think the Carribbean thing might have to do with some innocuous conversation they had near the beginning of the movie, but I really couldn’t be arsed with going back to find out. He gets on the train and sees Miranda Whatsherface trying to put her bag on the overhead rack. He helps her with it and goes back to sit down next to Charlie, who has just arrived. They talk a bit about what happened, and then Oscar says that Miranda smells nice. A new fetish has been born!

So what have we learned about life from watching Tadpole? I think it’s obvious:

1. Sideburns stick on better with spirit gum.
2. If you ever marry a person with kids, make sure they’re of the same gender and aren’t likely to be homosexual.
3. The French are into incest.

It Came from the Bargain Bin is a review series which takes lovely and loving potshots at movies which may not have been good enough to warrant worldwide acclaim, but hold a soft spot in the reviewer’s heart.

Trisha Lynn was also a precocious teenager in her day, but at least she never had sex with any of her parents’ friends…… ew!