Roger Dodger (2002) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for sexual content and language
Running Time: 106 min.

Cast: Campbell Scott, Jesse Eisenberg, Isabella Rossellini, Elizabeth Berkley, Jennifer Beals
Director: Dylan Kidd
Screenplay: Dylan Kidd
Review published October 25, 2002

Campbell Scott (The Spanish Prisoner, Big Night) is Roger "Dodger" Swanson, who earned that nickname as a kid for his knack for being able to finagle his way out of trouble.  Roger is an advertising executive, and a good one, because he has another knack.  He can dress down almost anyone, finding a flaw within them and exploiting it, making them insecure, even though he may have those very same faults.  He has been having an affair with his boss, although in that regard, he seems to be on his way out, although he disbelieves such a rejection could actually happen.  Existing in a self-centered outlook on life, he has had a falling out with his sister, never taking her calls or even bothering to listen to her phone messages.  It comes as a great surprise when his 16-year-old nephew (Eisenberg, The Emperor's Club) shows up at his office, seeking advice on how to lose his virginity, believing his uncle to be able to impart all of the skills and insights in figuring out women and getting them every time, knowledge which he is all to glad to impart because of the feeling of self-importance it bestows on him at a time when he feels empty.  The two set out on the town to learn lessons they'll never forget, but who is teaching who how to be a man?

Although the story is very different, in many ways Roger Dodger is a less commercial, more adult version of About a Boy, with both films centering around an egotistical womanizer who learns a thing or two when taking a younger boy under his wing.  While its a much more cynical look into the male mind, it's surprisingly funny, and much credit for the reason why Roger Dodger is a solid films comes from the keen insights and spectacular dialogue provided by first-time writer/director Dylan Kidd (P.S., Peep Show).   The casting is also perfect, as you can't find a better actor to deliver such intellectual monologues as Campbell Scott, and Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of the inquisitive teenage boy is sweet without any trace of phoniness. 

IIf there are any downsides to the film, it's that the story is necessarily contrived in order to work, as it seems incredible that a teen boy would seek out his uncle for sex advice, especially one which is in held in such low regard by the mother.  It's also difficult to believe that a couple of barflies portrayed by "Saved by the Bell" alum Elizabeth Berkley (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion) and Flashdance's Jennifer Beals would try to spend the evening entertaining a minor and his uncle, and the ending of the film does stretch the limits of believability (although I do feel it is still a great ending.)  Lastly, although I found it to be rather effective, some viewers who are susceptible to motion sickness when watching shaky camerawork may be put off by Kidd's reliance on the steady-cam, which never sits still for a second.

Roger Dodger is appealing for adults who enjoy dating comedies with a bit of bite, especially for those mature enough to see that there's more to a person than the superficial.  Dylan Kidd puts his name on the list of young talents to watch, and if he shows as much skill as a director as he has as a writer in his next feature, we may have another major talent in the making.  This is perhaps Campbell Scott's most realized role, so fans will be especially pleased at him being in a role he can excel in, a man who spends his whole life dodging the contempt of others, when all along he has spent a lifetime dodging his own.

Qwipster's rating:

2002 Vince Leo