Roger Dodger

English Title: Roger Dodger

Country of Origin: USA

Studio: Holedigger Films, Artisan

Director: Dylan Kidd

Producer(s): Anne Chaisson

Screenplay: Dylan Kidd

Cinematographer: Joaquin Baca-Asay

Editor: Andy Keir

Runtime: 106 minutes

Genre: Familial Dysfunction

Language: English

Starring/Cast: Jennifer Beals, Jesse Eisenberg, Isabella Rossellini, Campbell Scott

Year: 2002

Volume: American - Independent

Roger Swanson is a cold and cynical Manhattan advertising executive, recently given the elbow by his boss-cum-lover. Soon, his teenage nephew, Nick, appears on the pretext of seeing his uncle whilst attending an interview for a potential college. But it quickly becomes apparent that Nick wants more than to catch up: he needs Roger’s advice on the best ways to seduce women. Roger takes the boy under his wing, and takes him for a night out where they meet two beautiful women. But when things do not go according to plan, it becomes apparent that Roger still has much to learn about the opposite sex and the role that men should play in life.  

In dealing with the misogyny, insecurity and hypocrisy that typifies some members of the male sex, Dylan Kidd’s debut feature is somewhat reminiscent of the work of Neil LaBute. With a central character that has a brilliant line of patter (reveling in his apparent skill at being able to ‘read’ women) and few moral values, the film is an example of masculinity in crisis, with the desire to be ‘uber’-macho a reaction to the fear that the male gender will soon be obsolete (something discussed in a quite brilliant opening scene). As the central character, Scott is brilliant; carrying the entire movie with his brand of cynical smooth-talking hiding a frightened man scared of intimacy. Despite the fact that his views – and actions – are often reprehensible, Roger’s supreme confidence means that we often cannot help but warm to him, making us understand the attraction that he undoubtedly has for some members of the opposite sex. As Nick, Jesse Eisenberg makes a good foil for the titular character: naïve but with a warmth and kindness that Roger lacks.

Kidd’s script is sharp and witty with some fine monologues and two-handers. Whilst this does sometimes mean the film is in danger of tipping into theatricality, Kidd’s direction tries to keep things energetic and interesting. With the backdrop of the city of Manhattan being as cold as Roger’s manipulative techniques, Kidd shoots as if he were sneaking up on our main characters with shots from across the street, or looking over from restaurant tables. This sense of eavesdropping emphasizes much of the seemingly-illicit nature of what the film is expressing: that men are often leering at women, they are just getting a lot better at hiding it. Still, the female characters are far from marginalized, proving – on the whole – to be more than a match for Roger’s patter. Whilst this patter is sometimes in danger of unbalancing the film, the performances save proceedings, resulting in a film that avoids the didactic (the end certainly makes you wonder about the lessons that the characters have learned) to create an intriguing portrait of masculinity at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Author of this review: Laurence Boyce