Frisky French

Tadpole Starring Aaron Stanford, Sigourney Weaver, Bebe Neuwirth and John Ritter. Directed by Gary Winick. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0 Tadpole, a romantic comedy with a teenage protagonist and a refreshingly mature script, might be taken as proof that Americans are not incapable of making witty, sexy films in the manner of the French master Eric Roomer. The French connection is, in this case, built in: The lovelorn title character is steeped in French literature and the language of romance.

Even more to the point, story wise, this precocious prep-schooler (Aaron Stanford) has a serious crush on his stepmother (Sigourney Weaver), and in the course of his coltish attempts to woo her he will stumble, inadvertently but unequivocally, into the arms of her best friend (Bebe Neuwirth).

As directed by Gary Winick, this friskily intelligent comedy is daring without ever lapsing into sheer recklessness. Via Nancy (the wryly saucy Neuwirth) in particular, it leaps into a heady sort of bedroom farce, and Neuwirth’s rendering of perkily matter-of-fact hedonism makes her the presiding presence in the film’s freewheeling flirtations with taboos and rites of passage.

Stanford has the preternaturally wizened look of a kid whose mind is way ahead of his actual emotional experience. The mismatch of his prematurely aged mind and his charmingly gawky body produces a pathos that in turn enriches the multigenerational antics. Weaver seems to be holding back, and perhaps necessarily so, given the character she’s playing. John Ritter is pleasing as the kid’s father, a history professor who dithers amiably between generosity and dismay.

Winick, who punctuates the action with printed quotations from Voltaire, is no Eric Rohmer, but his film does have a real knack for dialogue scenes in which smart, articulate people wrestle with each other’s foibles. And, like Rohmer, he understands that conversation is a perfectly viable form of movie action and that the passions of dispassionate characters have a special, paradoxical credibility all their own.