Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Roger Dodger



USA 2002 : Dylan KIDD : 104 mins

Watching Roger Dodger, one pressing question springs to mind where the hell has Jennifer Beals been all these years? She contributes a supporting turn so luminous, natural and engaging that it seems criminal for such a terrific-looking and talented actress to have been in the movie wilderness for so long. If nothing else, debutant writer-director Kidd deserves credit for providing Beals with what should be a stepping-stone to a proper comeback.

The Flashdance star hasnt been entirely absent from our screens, but her appearances have either been confined to obscure films and TV movies, or cameos in more high-profile pictures, including Whit Stillmans 1998 The Last Days of Disco which, like Roger Dodger, peeked into the work and social lives of hyperarticulate Manhattanites. Unlike Stillmans ensemble, however, Kidds picture is essentially a two-hander as smooth-talking ladies man ad-writer Roger Swanson (Campbell Scott) who, over the course of one long evening, tries to teach his raw 16-year-old nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) how to get laid in double-quick time.

After starting off in an after-work singles bar where they chat up a pair of bemused beauties (Beals, Elizabeth Berkley) the pair gatecrash a party hosted by Rogers boss and ex-lover Joyce (Isabella Rossellini) before finally, desperately, head to a sleazy underground brothel. Throughout, Roger seldom shuts up imparting very dubious pearls of wisdom to his greenhorned relative, or providing impromptu (and unwanted) psychological dissections of the various women unlucky enough to come within his radar.

Roger DodgerKidd and Scott make it very clear from the off that Roger is an abrasively immature, insecure, delusional, thoroughly obnoxious asshole and, as usual in this tutor-tutee sub-genre (most recently Nine Queens), its the junior partner who turns out to be the more intelligent, sensible and, in this case, successful with the opposite sex. Though the pairs adventures are never less than entertaining, the overall arc is a little too predictable: we wait for Rogers waxen mask of self-esteem to crumble, and that’s exactly what eventually happens.

For a first-timer, Kidd is mostly in impressive charge of his material: Craig Wedrens music threads seductively through the various nocturnal environments, and the films look is on-the-hoof realistic – cinematographer Joaquin Baca-Asays camera either spies on the characters from a distance, usually with some blurry foreground item reducing our frame of vision, or gets in the thick of things for sweatily intense close-ups. (This concentration on interiors and faces is somewhat ironic, given that the historical footnote that Roger Dodger was the first film made in the post-9/11 landscape of the terrorist-ravaged Manhattan.)

Things only go slightly awry in the brothel scene, whose conclusion is presented with such quick-fire editing, shaky cinematography and jagged sound that its hard to know exactly whats going on. Kidd regains control in a bleak morning-after scene back at Rogers flat which builds to what should be a bleak, sobering close-up of his shattered anti-hero. But then the picture loses its nerve with an Ohio-set epilogue that represents an unwise shift in tone to more sentimental, conventionally amusing territory. What could have been a bracing but nevertheless blackly comic – psychological dissection ends up pulling back from the abyss into which Neil LaBute plunged in his debut, 1997s In The Company of Men : not so much ITCOM as sitcom, perhaps.

9th September, 2003
(seen 8th September : Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

by Neil Young