Oscar Grubman (Aaron Stanford) is 15 years old, going on 40, and he has a hand fetish. The son of a Columbia University history professor (John Ritter) in residence at a posh coop on Park Avenue, Oscar comes home for Thanksgiving break determined to declare his true love–who just happens to be his step-mother (Sigourney Weaver). No simpering, vacuous high school cuties for Oscar; he rebuffs their flirting as he obsesses on his infatuation with his Dad’s wife.
A premise like that could have followed the current commercial preference for the gross-out treatment, but director Gary Winick and his writers have opted for a bit of wit and taste, coming up with a sweet, gentle, so-light-it-might-float-away-any-moment comedy of urban manners. It’s not always quite as clever as it would like to think it is: Puccini did not write operettas and East side matrons don’t wash dishes by hand when there’s a dishwasher in plain sight. But there are enough funny lines, which, combined with some skilled performances, make for an amusing, feel-good bit of entertainment.
Stanford, in his debut here, is a charmer. He manages to find the right balance of adolescent uncertainty and adult sophistication necessary to make the premise work. Bebe Neuwirth (Liberty Heights, Summer of Sam) plays his step-mother’s best friend, a boozy chiropractor with few scruples about matters sexual. She gets a lot of the funniest lines (concerned with matters of size and knotted muscles) and Stanford makes a great straight man for her worldly mots. Sigourney Weaver (Galaxy Quest, A Map of the World), has less to do as the step-mom, but she handles what is at best a difficult situation with aplomb and tactful gentleness. Ritter is less fortunate in a badly written role; it’s hard to believe that a history professor at Columbia could be such a bozo. He does have a great moment in opening his Thanksgiving toast with an apology to Native Americans.
The film was shot in just two weeks with a hand-held digital camera and it shows. There are unnecessarily jumpy shots and scenes go out of focus regularly. These are obviously failings of a tight budget, unjustified in terms of the screen effect on content.
Quotes from Voltaire (Oscar’s idol) are used to bridge scenes. They add little and feel like padding in what is already a very short 78 minute running time. On the other hand, it is certainly refreshing to see a director keep his film to a length reasonably appropriate to its content.