Roger Dodger

2002, Movie, R, 105 mins


Campbell Scott's fiendishly mercurial performance as razor-tongued womanizer Roger is a revelation but it's only one of this nimble film's pleasures. First-time feature writer-director Dylan Kidd's lacerating dialogue is another, as is his astonishingly accomplished sense of mise en scene; time after time, what at first look like caught-on-the-fly shots reveal themselves to be handsomely and significantly composed. And he makes the most of strong supporting performances from Isabella Rossellini, as Roger's boss and soon-to-be ex; newcomer Jesse Eisenberg as his naive nephew; and Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley as a pair of prowling party girls who are, like everything else in this bracingly smart movie, not what they at first appear. Advertising copywriter Roger has a dauntingly articulate theory about everything — especially the war between men and women — and knows the power of words is that people never expect them to hurt so much. His poisonous prattle is variously deployed to entertain co-workers, pick up girls and lacerate the unwary; he takes particular pleasure in turning his smug verbosity on women with the nerve to recognize a practiced line of pick-up patter. And without overstating Roger's hidden vulnerability, Kidd and Scott allow his festering insecurities to seep through the polished facade over the course of a long, harrowing evening of carousing. The twin catalysts for this particular dark night of the libido: A crushing heave-ho from Joyce (Rossellini) and a visit from Roger's teenage nephew, Nick, a slightly geeky high-school senior desperate to lose his virginity. Roger, piqued and bristling, squires the youngster around town and instructs him in the tricks of the trade, slipping him into bars, crashing parties and winding up in a hellish whorehouse. In the film's longest sequence, the duo pick up Sophie (Beals) and Andrea (Berkley) at a bar and wind up bantering and flirting over a bottle in Riverside Park, where Sophie gives Nick his first real kiss. Scott is the film's excoriating center, but 18-year-old Eisenberg is the ballast that keeps it from lurching into Neil LaBute territory. His Nick is naive without being an idiot, and the youngster's admiration of Roger's slick moves is tempered by an innate understanding that if you spend your life running mind games on women, sooner or later you're going to get played. If the film's closing scenes are a little pat, they're still light years away from the touchy-feely wrap-ups favored by Hollywood. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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