Roger Dodger

(Dylan Kidd, USA, 2002)


Is Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, 1997) to blame for all the contemporary, American films in which men aggressively sound off about the difference between the genders, while the women in their vicinity wilt, flee or decide to join in this binary game?

Roger Dodger begins with a standard tableau of this type. Roger (Campbell Scott) holds forth over a lunch table about the abyss between men and women. His spiel is a mixture of Darwinism, pop psychology and Men's Movement self-affirmation. To every guy who tries to deflate his pomposity, he is instantly cold and vicious; to every woman, he is slyly flirtatious.

One of these women, Joyce (Isabella Rossellini), happens to be both his boss and his lover. But Roger has problems keeping his cool in this ambiguous realm between the personal and the professional. Compensation for his bruised male ego comes in an unlikely form: a virginal teenage nephew, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), who craves tutoring in the ways of the world.

This debut feature by writer-director Dylan Kidd tips predictably, at a certain point, from screwball comedy to darker drama. Psychological suspense pulls us in two directions: either Nick is going to be corrupted, or Roger will finally learn to grow up a little.

Roger Dodger has some good lines and moments, and a uniformly terrific cast. The best sequence involves two women that Roger and Nick meet in a bar, played by Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley – two underrated performers unfairly vilified for their starring involvement in (respectively) Flashdance (1983) and Showgirls (1995).

But one senses that there's a big problem with this movie from that very first lunch scene, which is so chaotically shot that one can never exactly tell who is looking at whom. Kidd keeps up this maddening style, all close-ups and jittering camera, to the final frame. Others (such as the Dardenne brothers) have used this method with mastery, but Kidd seems to be merely covering a lack of craft. It is a major distraction, and it exaggerates the more banal aspects of the gender-war script.

© Adrian Martin March 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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