Reviewed by Lee Marshall in Venice
Dir: Dylan Kidd. USA. 2002. 106 mins.
This dark-veined New York comedy by first-time director Dylan Kidd came as oneof the few pleasant surprises in the opening few days at Venice, where itplayed in critics' week. Roger Dodger is thethinking man's American Pie: thestory of a schoolboy's attempt to lose his virginity in the Big Apple with thehelp of a fast-talking but emotionally stunted bachelor uncle. While suburbanromantics and slow-witted hicks may find it a little too heartless and a littletoo clever for its own good, the film presents a cogent argument against thesetwo metropolitan vices. Tight comic pacing and intelligent use of affordablebut still recognisable acting talent (Scott, Rossellini, Beals, Berkley) shoulddraw international sales for this promising debut, which will play the morecommercial end of the arthouse circuit and easily find an ancillary niche.Artisan Entertainment picked up the film for the US at Cannes, with salescompany Alliance Atlantis reporting serious interest from European distributorsat Venice.
Roger Dodger is the childhood nickname ofadvertising copywriter Roger Swanson (note symbolically loaded surname), asmooth womaniser whose conversation is as sharp as the creases in his suit. Theaudience watch Roger (Scott) entertaining colleagues with a stream ofintellectual one-liners, then cruising an series of identical designer bars,less to pick women up than to take them apart. He is, in other words, a highlyarticulate monster, whose affair with his boss (Rossellini) is just one morepower-play. Two sticks in two wheels send Roger's titanium bicycle careeringoff the road: first, his boss tells him his services as a lover are no longerrequired; then his spotty, innocent, idealistic 16-year-old nephew Nick(Eisenberg) turns up from Ohio, certain that uncle Roger can help him lose hisvirginity. Roger accepts the challenge, and the rest of the film follows themodulations, setbacks and eventual overturning of this master-disciplerelationship through the bars, parties and brothels of Manhattan.
Kidd's visualstyle - influenced by Wong Kar-wai - is to take sharp close-ups from hiddenviewpoints: most of the long first scene, for example, is shot through a screenof potted plants. The idea, presumably, is to convey Roger's elusiveness and/orthe voyeuristic values of the society he lives in. Sometimes it works,sometimes it comes across as a stylistic tic, inoffensive but irrelevant. Moreeffective is the lighting of the film's long night, which becomes more lurid asNick's inititation turns sour, ending with a red-flooded sex club sequence inwhich Roger completes his transformation from suave seducer to Mephistopheles.The editing matches the flow of Roger's motormouth monologues, keeping the pacefast and tight.
Scott, whoalso executive produced the film, manages to generate sympathy for what is, onpaper, a hugely unsympathetic character; and the supporting cast, fromEisenberg to Jennifer Beals and Elisabeth Berkley (two post-feminist girls onthe pull), is strong. Most importantly, though, for all its darker tinges, Roger Dodger is a consistently funnyfilm for urban, cine-literate hipsters, as if Mike Leigh's Naked had been dipped in Woody Allen sauce. In Venice, the festivalaudience were in stitches - even though most of them were reading thesubtitles.
Prod co: Holedigger Film
Int'l sales: Alliance Atlantis
Prods: Anne Chaisson, George Van Busirik, Kidd
Cinematography: Joaquin Baca-Asay
Prod des: Stephen Beatrice
Ed: Andy Keir
Music: Craig Wedren
Main cast: Campbell Scott, Jesse Eisenberg, Isabella Rossellini,Jennifer Beals, Elisabeth Berkley