Roger Dodger Review
It's been a bad week for Roger Swanson (Campbell Scott). A promising copy writer for a New York ad agency, he's been giving his career an extra boost by sleeping with his boss (Isabella Rossellini). Now the affair's gone sour, she's moved on to a new office stud and he's not only out of her bed but off the guest list for company social functions. It's not the best time for his nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) to show up looking for advice on girls from the family lothario. Seeing an opportunity to blow off some steam and avenge himself on women and life in general, Roger drags the kid to a dingy bar, shoves a rum and coke into his hand and treats him to a crash course on how to score.
Or, more accurately, how not to score. Would-be skirt-chasers thinking of seeing Roger Dodger for tips had better think again, for although Roger has mastered the skill of looking up a woman's dress without being caught, as a pick-up artist he's no Warren Beatty. We've already seen him blow a golden opportunity with a woman in a bar because he'd rather humiliate her than leave with her. Roger has the ruthless misogyny required to be a player but he lacks the charm and the ability to make a woman feels she's bonded with him. He doesn't have what it takes to be a successful bastard like the ones played by Jason Patric in Your Friends And Neighbours or Pierce Brosnan in The Tailor Of Panama.
I'm not sure writer-director Dylan Kidd fully understands that Roger fails because his approach is all wrong. Roger Dodger (the title comes from a childhood nickname) is structured like a morality play in which Roger is knocked back for being a callous jerk while innocent, gentlemanly Nick impresses the girls by being himself. Well of course that's what happens - this is a movie and, despite its indie pedigree, it's a fairly conventional one that bows to the politically correct view that womanising is bad and men who behave like that are only doing it because something is wrong with their lives. This is an outlook shared by What Women Want, The Tao Of Steve and Two Girls And A Guy but perhaps it's one that reflects how people wish life was rather than how it actually is. In reality, Roger would either be a lot cannier or would never have got as far as he has in life. The reaction of some of the female characters to Nick also reflects wishful thinking - a thirtysomething woman who goes to a sleazy singles bar is probably not on the lookout for a decent, genuine guy. For that matter, how many 16-year-old boys are as sweet and respectful as Nick?
Despite those reservations about the plot, Roger Dodger is a promising first film for Dylan Kidd, boasting good, quotable dialogue and well-captured atmosphere. For once the bars in a movie look like real bars. He coaxes fine performances from his actors, particularly Campbell Scott, who got the film made after he was pitched it at a chance meeting with Kidd. You can't blame him - Roger is a choice part and he dominates the film. Jesse Eisenberg has the more thankless role but doesn't let the side down and Isabella Rosellini, Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley make the most of their appearances as Roger's boss and his intended victims. Roger Dodger has enough good qualities to make it worth seeing, though it doesn't quite do justice to a great premise and you may wonder what a more mercilessly cynical film-maker like Neil LaBute (Your Friends And Neighbours) or Todd Solondz (Happiness) might have done with it.