Roger Dodger

Roger Dodger (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Dylan Kidd
viewed: 04/19/03

This cynical dark comedy sort of succeeds despite itself. If it succeeds at all, it certainly does so despite it’s direction and cinematography, which I had read was bad but was personally really awed by its badness. The hand-held camera work felt like a bad night on ER at best, a style that has many critics, but one that can work when the material really seems to mesh with it. In this case, the cinematic style seemed totally out of whack with the narrative. Some shots are positioned from behind plants or across the room, I guess to give the impression of evesdropping on the speakers. This also seemed like an unnecessary and clumsy approach. The overall impression that it offered seemed to muddy the film’s tone, which really detracted from something that could have been much better.

I don’t know what I have to say about this film that hasn’t been said elsewhere, since I largely agree with the major commentary. Namely, Campbell Scott carries the film on his back, the sleazy, misogynist, loathsome back of his character, the titular Roger. The script is very bleak but funny. It almost seems that this material could have been handled in a different vein, this could have been a truly hilarious comedy.

The film’s attitude towards Roger muddied toward the end. Most of the duration, he is suggested to be a sexist, elitest know-it-all, who is largely a rather well-built facade. His 16 year old nephew, Nick, is a sweet and innocent pupil for an evening as Roger introduces him to his understanding of sex and the process of getting sex. Nick ultimately shuns Roger’s world and his interpretation of it. However, the film ends after a refresher course, halting on a freeze frame of Nick’s expression, just as he realizes that Roger has set up Nick once again with a pretty girl. The open-ended-ness of this frozen shot seems to imply the question in the audience’s minds: what has Nick learned from Roger? Also, the style of the framing suggests a humor about the ending. Was there some redemption or quality to Roger’s advice?

I was not sure.

The film takes place largely in one or two nights in Manhattan. There is a sense of the city in the film, though a dark and still hard to place sense, I would say. We are shown Manhattan through Roger’s eyes, and so perhaps this is all we see of New York City as well, a place over-darkened by cynicism and bad cinematography.

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