Sex is everywhere.
The glut of independent films in which the division between the sexes is highlighted and expanded upon and waxed poetically upon have become more and more numerous. Everybody seems to have some brilliant opinion on how women are from Venus and guys are from Mars, and then they have to need to make a film on some flimsy premise that nobody really cares about. The secret they all seem to be telling us is that guys will never in a million, jillion years understand women, especially when asked something like, "Does this make me look fat?" On the other hand, understanding guys is pretty easy since 95% of the time we're thinking about sex and the other 5% of the time we're thinking how nice it would be to have a ham sandwich.
Artisan has brought us yet another one of these movies, only this time there's far more wit and acerbic cynicism involved, making Roger Dodger worth a look. Not only did Artisan bring this film to DVD, but they did so by making a "special edition" without labeling it as such.
Facts of the Case
Roger (Campbell Scott, Singles) is a smarmy bastard who works as an advertising copywriter. He thinks he knows everything about the world and how it works, including the minds of women everywhere, and he's not shy about sharing his knowledge with his friends. He's also having an affair with Joyce (Isabella Rossellini, Death Becomes Her), who also happens to be his boss. When the relationship sours and Roger is tossed out on his heels, he becomes consumed with self-doubt. Roger's ego is soon resuscitated when he receives a surprise visit from his sixteen-year-old nephew, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), who needs some help in dealing with the ladies. Roger then takes Nick under his wing to explain the female mind and the art of being a player. After entering a bar they hook up with two ladies, Andrea (Elizabeth Berkley, Showgirls) and Sophie (Jennifer Beals, Flashdance), who immediately see Roger for the conniving jerk he is but are fascinated by Nick's naïveté. They're looking for Mr. Right in the wrong place since, as Roger has pointed out, the bars are full of predators like him. After that doesn't seem to pan out, Roger decides to use Nick to crash a party at Joyce's apartment and things spiral out of control from there.
Roger Dodger is one of those rare movies where a director (in this case, Dylan Kidd) and actor (Scott) can combine forces to creator an absolutely unlikable (though charming) protagonist and generate a great deal of sympathy and pity for him. Campbell Scott's turn as the razor-tongued Roger is what carries 95% percent of the film and will keep the viewer absolutely fascinated. The dialogue is sharp, and while it isn't necessarily realistic conversational dialogue, Kidd's words ring true when it comes to the battle of the sexes. Roger's smug theories on the eventual obsolescence of men in regards to the continuation of our species are off the wall and are almost viable coming out of Roger's mouth. For me, that speech is going to be one of those great and memorable movie moments, as it was revolting and hilarious all at the same time.
In contrast to Roger, there's Nick, the shy and unconfident child looking to make the leap into manhood. His envy of Roger's success with women (or, theoretical success with women) leads him to hang on Roger's every word and soak in advice. Unfortunately, Roger is a man with few, if any, scruples and gives advice solely about instant gratification and one-night stands. Lying is perfectly acceptable if it will lead to the doffing of garments and hot steamy monkey sex. Eisenberg's portrayal of Nick is spot on, and without this key foil to play against Scott's Roger, the movie would have fallen flat.
Equally impressive is the trio of female leads. I can honestly say that I've never been wholly impressed with Elizabeth Berkley's acting skills, though I'll grant she was awfully cute in her Saved By the Bell days. In Roger Dodger, Berkley manages to shine in her best role to date and she comes across as a woman who glides. One of my few complaints about this film is that she and Beals had perhaps too little screen time, but once you see how important they are to the story, you'll understand why they couldn't be around for too long. Isabella Rossellini is outstanding as Joyce, the target of Roger's affection and later his jabs and barbs. When Roger's feelings are hurt (believe that or not) by Joyce's rejection, he tries to turn the pain back at Joyce. Rossellini makes her role as the lover scorned one of the highlights of the film.
Roger Dodger marks Dylan Kidd's first foray into film, and it's a stunning case for him to stick around a bit. Kidd's frequent use of handheld cameras (a practice I've frowned upon in past reviews) works for this film, giving the audience a voyeuristic feel. Perhaps it was because the camera isn't too jumpy (a definite complaint I had with The Blair Witch Project), or it could be because each shot is meticulously set up by the director of photography, Joaquin Baca-Asay, who also worked on a similar film I reviewed (Two Ninas). The long sequence that takes place inside The Opaline is expertly constructed and best separates the various personalities from each other, contrasting Nick's eagerness and frustration with Roger's cynicism and smugness. While some people who watch Roger Dodger may not necessarily appreciate the film's inconclusive conclusion, I'll defend the decision by stating that it perfectly fit the script in every way.
The last thing I really need to mention is the inventive musical score supplied by Craig Wedren. Every note of music fit the mood of the film, from the bar scenes, to Roger's dejection, all the way to Roger's repeated ejection from Joyce's apartment building. The score was a pleasant cross somewhere between a Stewart Copeland score and a mild techno beat, though I think it could have used some more cowbell.
The video presentation is fairly solid, though limited by the source material. With Roger Dodger having not much of a budget, it doesn't appear to be the filmed with the best of film stocks. There is some problem with grain and some occasional, noticeable edge enhancement. The 5.1 channel sound field is sorely underused and unremarkable. Artisan has granted the courtesy of providing a plethora of extra content, starting with not one but two commentary tracks. The first track features director Kidd and director of photography Baca-Asay as they deal with the more technical aspects of Roger Dodger. The second track features Kidd along with stars Campbell Scott and Jesse Eisenberg in the lesser of the two commentaries. Both contain good information but the second one suffers from the participants occasionally leaning too far away from the microphone. Next we sort of move through a series of features that try to be a "Film School in a Box" with mixed results. These features are introduced by Kidd and involve the various behind-the-scenes personnel such as Kidd, Baca-Asay, and Wedren. These are decent enough features but were kind of dull. They culminate in the deconstruction of The Opalline scene, a feature that took too long to actually get to the subject matter. There's also an obligatory deleted scene, and, as I've said many times before, it was obvious why it was deleted. Artisan amusingly included the "Player's Guide to Scoring With Women," which gives us some of the best words of wisdom from Roger in written form. Lastly, we come to "New York at Night: The Roger Dodger Walking Tour with Jesse Eisenberg." While I don't usually throw around callous and insensitive words like "retarded" to describe things, I'll point out that this particular special feature is exactly why words like "retarded" were first used in callous and insensitive manners. This was easily one of the biggest wastes of time I've suffered through in my lifetime, and that's saying something.
Roger Dodger is not a film that is going to appeal to everyone, and I'd hazard a guess that it will alienate female audiences. However, this is a very well made film and it's definitely worth a look if only for Campbell Scott's razor sharp performance.
Roger Dodger is free to go on all counts, but Roger himself definitely needs some psychiatric help.
Sadly there are probably own four people who read this who actually understood the cowbell joke.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Dylan Kidd and Director Of Photography Joaquin Baca-Asay
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