Roger Dodger
review by Dan Lybarger, 25 October 2002

Roger Dodger features a protagonist who's so abrasive, it's a wonder that he doesn't send viewers charging for the exits.  Fortunately, Campbell Scott (The Spanish Prisoner) imbues the arrogant, predatory Roger Swanson with a skewed intelligence. To an uniformed listener, Roger's diatribes about gender roles, technology and other subjects sound mesmerizingly logical.

Roger's gift makes him a prodigious ad copywriter and a miserable person. His affair with his boss Joyce (Isabella Rossellini) has cooled to subzero temperatures, and despite his silver tongue, Roger usually goes to his Spartan New York apartment alone. Only someone like his nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) from Ohio could find Roger a worthy role model. The sixteen-year-old lad runs away to the Big Apple in hopes of learning how to score with women. Roger takes the lad to a series of nightspots leading to amusingly disastrous results. Gorgeous older women (played by the likes of Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley) in droves find Nick's earnestness rather endearing, filling the older-but-not-wiser Roger with envy. Nick may be naïve, but he's bright enough to figure out that his uncle's diatribes shouldn't be confused with fact. Similarly, Scott and novice writer-director Dylan Kidd manage to make Roger repulsively fascinating.

Scott delivers his remarks about the obsolescence of men, which open the film, in a flippant manner. Roger comes across as funny and erudite, having a seemingly endless grasp of several subjects. Scott gives Roger a deceptive sense of authority that makes these and other diatribes sound like scripture. Because Roger is so booksmart, we often get the false sense that he'll eventually right himself.

Kidd, however, later reveals that Roger, despite his casual manner, actually does feel useless. Roger laments that his job as an ad copywriter is to remind readers of needs they don't really have. Similarly, Kidd and Eisenberg give Nick a winning blend of innocence and common sense. Nick may have come to New York with less than honorable goals, but he senses the inherent self-destructiveness in Roger's lifestyle. 

The setup is simple, and the lead characters are almost types. Kidd throws in some intriguing twists that make Roger and Nick believably human. His cinema-verité-like techniques (handheld cameras, and pale, muted images) also give the rather talky film an energy and spontaneity it wouldn't have otherwise. It's a safe bet that Nick will fare better than his uncle will, but because the events look real, the movie doesn't become predictable. Kidd's sharp dialogue is another asset. When Roger tires of Nick's earnestness and envies the attention that women are giving his nephew, he declares, "This is my nephew. His name is Jesus."

Despite how well Scott and Eisenberg play off each other, the supporting cast is never completely upstaged. Rossellini is likeably maternal, and Beals and Berkley reveal a talent that hadn't been evident in their earlier roles. If she keeps this up, Berkley might be able to make us forget Showgirls.

Click here to read the Roger Dodger interview.

Written and
Directed by:

Dylan Kidd

Campbell Scott
Jesse Eisenberg
Isabella Rossellini
Elizabeth Berkley
Jennifer Beals
Ben Shenkman
Mina Badie
Chris Stack

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult






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