Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Dylan Kidd

Cast: Campbell Scott, Jesse Eisenberg, Isabella Rossellini, Elizabeth Berkley, Jennifer Beals, Mina Badie, Ben Shenkman, Chris Stack

MPAA Rating:  (for sexual content and language)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 10/25/02

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Roger Dodger leaves all possible pretense of the softer nature of its main character behind in the opening scene, and it only falters slightly near the end when it attempts to reconcile him with the past. In the scene, Roger Swanson (Campbell Scott) conducts a discourse on the future evolution and eventual uselessness of the male gender with a group of his fellow employees at a restaurant. This is a man in love with words and particularly the ways in which he can use them to capture the attention of anyone and everyone in the room. What he has to say makes sense—mostly due to his delivery and diction—but what’s more important is that he believes it. He can’t help but believe it. We know he believes it too. That’s what makes him so fascinating a subject. Here’s a man who genuinely believes that men are around only for as long as their usefulness holds out, and damn it if he’s not going to take full advantage of the time that’s been given him.

Roger is a dodger, a deceitful scoundrel, who has a knack for reading people (it comes from working in advertising). Even though he seems to be looking out for your best interest when he accurately guesses the details of your life, he only has his own in mind. He knows he’s like this. After the opening dialogue when the movie proper starts, he’s involved with his boss Joyce (Isabella Rossellini), who decides to end the relationship. He doesn’t take it well and clings to her the way a teenager with a broken heart would his ex-girlfriend. He takes an article of clothing from her dresser while she’s sleeping and later tries to get into her apartment again, stopped by an unfamiliar doorman. The day later, Roger finds his sixteen-year-old nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) standing in his office. Nick is in Manhattan for an interview at Columbia and has decided to pay his long-time-no-see uncle a visit. Roger has ostracized himself from his family after an unspecified incident at his mother’s funeral, but Nick has heard rumors that he’s good with the ladies. And what sixteen-year-old doesn’t need help in that department?

What follows is a night of exploration and discovery for the two, and although it sounds rather simplistic, the smart, observant script by writer/director Dylan Kidd lets us in on the characters minds. This is an entertaining look into the male psyche—well, at least the psyche of males preoccupied with adolescent concerns. Note how Nick already has the general idea for most of what Roger is teaching him when it comes to taking the opportunity to check out women. They’re both teenagers, but only one of them has a legitimate excuse for it. Eventually, Roger and Nick are on the dating scene, and Kidd really allows us to understand the entire mindset of his characters here. The dialogue in these scenes is great. It has a strong self-awareness, suggesting that these people have come to accept that all of this is a game. Knowing that and occasionally admitting to it can only help. Kidd’s camera is intimate, staying close to people’s actions, and as most of the film is dialogue, it loves to linger on their faces. This also helps us get into their minds. In their first dinner engagement, Roger and Nick both look at women passing the background in the middle of conversation, and the speaker goes out of focus when it happens. Later, Nick drops his straw to catch a glimpse under the table (one of Roger’s suggestions), and the camera follows him. Kidd knows what’s important, and while the technique to show that is obvious, it does work.

The two lead performances are incredibly strong. Campbell Scott is terrific as the manipulating, womanizing Roger. For a man who is defined by what he says, Scott has a strikingly distinct tonal quality to his voice that really helps define the character. He’s equally charming and despicable, although the former side wins out more often than the latter, which is important to the character’s arc. Jesse Eisenberg is a perfect antithesis to him. Eisenberg’s performance is natural and unaffected but still technically polished. The interaction between the two grows from endearing to slightly unnerving when Roger unveils his infamous fail-safe technique—a revelation which hints that he isn’t quite as successful with women as he puts on. Most of the other characters are reduced to the backdrop, but Elizabeth Berkley and Jennifer Beals are solid as two women who spend an extended amount of time with the guys.

It’s in this sequence that we start to see that Nick probably won’t turn out like his uncle. He has too much of a conscience for that. Roger Dodger understands the other side too. Sure, he has the same interest in sex, but that’s merely a generic male characteristic. Sure, he ultimately uses the techniques he’s learned, but he’s learned something much more useful: don’t go through life hiding or avoiding chances. Whether Roger has learned something from Nick is open to interpretation.

Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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