Roger Dodger

on October 25, 2002 by Sheri Linden
   Campbell Scott toplines a terrific cast with his spot-on portrayal of an acerbic, arrogant Manhattanite introducing his virginal 16-year-old nephew to the war zone of sexual conquest in "Roger Dodger." Delivering one of his strongest performances, Scott has the perfect foil in newcomer Jesse Eisenberg, and first-time director Dylan Kidd--who won the best feature film award at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year--provides unblinking, subtle observations in his fine script.

   Moments after his boss (Isabella Rossellini) dispassionately ends their affair, advertising copywriter Roger receives a surprise visit from his young nephew, Nick, in town from Ohio for an interview at Columbia and eager to mine the worldly wisdom of his "ladies' man" uncle. Roger, who makes a habit of offering brutal psychological appraisals to women he meets in bars, throws himself into the mission of educating Nick. In Scott's searing portrayal, Roger is too smart for his own good. "I think of ways to make people feel bad," he says of his work, and that combination of insight and cynicism characterizes his approach to life--an approach he finds unraveling as the long Friday night proceeds. He sneaks Nick into a singles bar, where they pick up two beautiful, sharp-witted women (Elizabeth Berkley and Jennifer Beals, thoroughly believable) who are attracted by Nick's innocence and ultimately repelled by Roger's harsh view of male-female relations. "We need more men like you," Berkley's character tells Nick in fond farewell, after her friend has given the boy his first real kiss. Like Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, the duo, fueled by alcohol and propelled by Roger's tactical maneuvers, continue their increasingly dark journey through the New York night, concluding their odyssey in the hellish underworld of a subterranean brothel.

   Eisenberg (who bears a striking resemblance to his sister Hallie Eisenberg) plays Nick with a natural adolescent sweetness, balancing eager curiosity and uncertainty. The film's visual expressionism is generally commendable, although the use of jittery handheld camerawork and off-center framing, at times reminiscent of Dockers ads, is more distracting than helpful. Kidd's writing, however, deftly weaves background personal and family issues into the crackling dialogue, which always rings true. "Roger Dodger" is a fresh, original look at sex, replete with scathing humor, pathos and memorable characters. Starring Campbell Scott, Jesse Eisenberg, Isabella Rossellini, Elizabeth Berkley, Jennifer Beals, Ben Shenkman, Mina Badie and Chris Stack. Directed and written by Dylan Kidd. Produced by Anne Chaisson, Dylan Kidd and George Van Buskirk. An Artisan release. Comedy/Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 101 min

Tags: Campbell Scott, Jesse Eisenberg, Isabella Rossellini, Elizabeth Berkley, Jennifer Beals, Ben Shenkman, Mina Badie, Chris Stack, Directed and written by Dylan Kidd, Produced by Anne Chaisson, Dylan Kidd, George Van Buskirk, An Artisan release, Comedy/Drama, alcohol, sweetness, curiosity, expressionism, humor

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