Roger Dodger (8/10)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


Rodger Dodger is from an exceptional script by first-timer Dylan Kidd, who also directed.  Roger Swanson (Campbell Scott) is a 40ish swinging New York City bachelor who is a regular in the singles bar scene.  Heís visited by his 16-year-old high school nephew, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), who wants to learn how to seduce women and lose his virginity.

 Roger, caustic and arrogant beyond measure, tackles the assignment.  Roger sneaks them in to one of Rogerís favorite hangouts because Nickís underage, and Roger quickly tutors Nick on how to act and speak when they meet a woman.  Roger gets two gorgeous, but dubious, women, Andrea (Elizabeth Berkley) and Sophie (Jennifer Beals), to sit with them for what starts out as one drink.  The dialogue among the four of them rivals that in My Dinner with Andre.  Although it takes up a substantial part of the film, it never straggles.  Itís sparkling, witty, and holds your interest.

 The two women take to Nick as much as they are repulsed by Roger.  But Roger is nothing if not immune to rejection.  He doesnít so much ignore it, as he doesnít recognize it.  Women, to Roger, are there to be scored.  One a night, says Roger.

 Kidd expertly shows that Nick is the adult in this relationship and Roger the adolescent, even though throughout the movie itís Roger giving the advice and Nick receiving.  This anomaly is buttressed when Roger takes Nick to a party thrown by his ex girl friend and boss, Joyce (Isabella Rossellini), who has dumped him.  Each has an experience that spotlights his character.

 Roger Dodger, unfortunately, is marred by its filmmaking.  Shot almost entirely with hand held cameras by Joaquin Baca-Asay, the lighting is minimal, at best.  The result is that watching this film is akin to watching radio.  Baca-Asay is from NYUís Tisch School of the Arts (where he was Director Kiddís classmate) and it appears that the artistic part went to his head.  The light is so low itís difficult to see the charactersí faces.  Maybe this is oh, so avant-garde, but, for me, it made the film difficult to watch.

 Despite the low light cinematography, Kiddís script is a joy.  Anyone whoís ever been in the singles bar scene recognizes Roger instantly, and Scott translates him with unerring brilliance, making him cloyingly hateful.  Berkley, Beals, and Eisenberg complement Scott, interpreting their characters with discernment. Their performances, along with the hand-held camera technique, authoritatively capture the ambience of the singles world.

 If you can stand the low light, this is a funny, enjoyable movie with a message.

  The End