His amphibian nickname may suggest otherwise, but everyone around Aaron Stanford in Tadpole refers to him as a 40-year-old in a 15-year-old's body. He mostly lives up to that perception. The divide between 15 and 40 narrows beyond perception over the course of the long Thanksgiving vacation that comprises Tadpole, a digital-video feature whose charms excuse faults that extend beyond its cruddy appearance. Home from boarding school, and coping with a crush on stepmother Sigourney Weaver, Stanford bounces from one uncomfortable situation to another, starting with a post-festivities night out that drops him in the bed of Weaver's chiropractor best friend (Bebe Neuwirth). Throughout the rest of the weekend, two thoughts plague him: the knowledge that he's settled for the next best thing, and the thought that everyone else will find out. Reading Candide all the while, Stanford travels through a hyper-literate Manhattan straight out Whit Stillman-land, and while director Gary Winick and screenwriters Heather McGowan and Niels Mueller don't quite seem to know where to take him, they make the journey involving anyway. Though sloppily structured and sometimes dangerously flimsy (not to mention truncated at a mere 78 minutes), Tadpole has an unforced charm that compensates for the absence of more traditional cinematic virtues. Weaver, Neuwirth, and John Ritter (as Stanford's dad) all turn in fine work, but the newcomer is the real find. Stanford does a fair amount of acting with nothing more than the sad circles around his eyes, while suggesting that much is at work behind the sadness—that unlike Voltaire's hero, his character might just make a life directed by forces other than bad luck and the will of those around him.

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