His mom used to call him “Dodger” because he can always talk himself out of trouble. All grown up now, Roger (Campbell Scott) is still a smooth-talker and he uses his verbal prowess to get into any skirt he desires. It’s because of this “ladies’ man” reputation that Roger’s 16 year old nephew (Jesse Eisenberg) comes to him. An insecure virgin, Nick wants to be school in the art of seduction by a true master:
20/20 vision is critical.
Know what to look for.
Camouflage your moves.
Work the angles.
Beware of the second round lag.
Take advantage of the desperation that sets in after a party is past its apex.
Locate women two drinks ahead of the rest.
Wait… This is starting to sound sleazy, isn’t it? Well of course it is! As riveting and charismatic as Campbell Scott is as Roger and as insightful as his discourse can be, it can also be reductive and somewhat misogynistic. And behind his impossibly cool façade, you can feel he’s not that happy with himself, even though he might not know it yet…
A less humorous but sharper Swingers, “Roger Dodger” is an utterly brilliant social study by filmmaker Dylan Kidd. His screenplay is endlessly quick-witted but it also packs a lot of nuance and depth. It’s astonishing how much is conveyed about even the most minor characters, and it’s all achieve with much subtlety and a profound respect for the audience’s intelligence. How refreshing to see a film that doesn’t feel the need to spell everything out for you! I found the similarly-themed “About a Boy” to be great fun but in typical Hollywood fashion it was compelled to tie everything neatly and to soften the edges. But it’s those very grey areas and rough edges that are often what’s the most interesting and true!
Visually, Kidd also displays great skill without showing off. In fact, the technique is so effective it becomes invisible. But it’s there for who looks for it and the whole crew delivers, be it cinematographer, music composer or editor . Henceforth it’s assumed (if you subscribe to auteur theory at least) that Kidd is to praised for how damn well everything works, including the uniformly strong performances. One could argue that Campbell Scott’s long been a criminally underrated actor and Jesse Eisenberg had already proved to be an engaging performer in the short-lived, underrated TV series “Get Real”. But how do you explain that not only Jennifer Beals but also Elizabeth Berkley (of all people!) turn out to be convincing, complex and likable here?
“Roger Dodger” just might be the most promising American debut since Reservoir Dogs, a movie with which it shares many qualities. Just look at their opening scenes, both set in coffee shops, with close hand-held shots and candid, erudite sex talk. The movies then proceed through much different plots, but the two pictures remain testosterone-heavy and engrossingly talkative.
“Roger Dodger” is a great, great, great film. It would have easily made my 2002 Top Ten (Top 5, even), had I actually seen it during that calendar year. I can’t believe how I can let such greatness slip through the cracks while reviewing the dopiest junk sometimes. Oh well, at least now the film’s out on DVD (with plenty of fascinating special features). Don’t miss out like I initially did!