Quite the most shocking thing about this out-to-shock indie is the discovery that it was shot on film, not on video. I wasn’t even aware that it was possible to make film look this amateurishly bad.
The next-most-shocking thing — apart from the film’s really creepy insistence that it is basically a comedy — concerns the number of my critical brethren who are hurling superlatives at Roger Dodger. In subjecting myself to 90 minutes of this disagreeable movie about a disagreeable character, I often felt like hurling something myself — though it had more to do with bricks and overripe tomatoes than superlatives.
What we have here is another of those independent films that seeks to impress us with its obvious importance by virtue of its sheer unattractiveness — both physically and thematically. Getting past my personal distaste for the character and the story — to the degree that there is a story — my primary response was, “Someone buy these people some lighting equipment.” There are actually chunks of the movie where we might be watching fruit bats mating in a cave for all I know — except that that might be more educational than the spectacle laid out for us by first-time writer/director Dylan Kidd.
Since there are stretches of the film that are hard to even see, it’s just too much to hope that the film wasn’t also done with the patented indie shaky-cam. And — oh, yes — the shaky cam is right here in all its dubious glory, resulting in a movie that looks like it was shot by Roger Vadim at his ersatz-cinema verite worst.
My guess is that if the film looked more professionally made, it wouldn’t be garnering the reviews it has, since all of this jittery, grainy, underexposed footage helps to obscure the fact that what Kidd has made is essentially a sleazy little movie about a sleazy little man whom in real life I’d go out of my way to avoid. And I’m not sure why I should feel much more compelled to indulge this fellow on a movie screen.
Campbell Scott — in an admittedly convincing performance — plays Roger Swanson. Roger, nicknamed “Roger Dodger” by his mother because of his ability to talk his way out of anything, is an advertising copywriter on the edge of 40 who is finding that his ad-man spiel isn’t working so well in the sex department any longer.
Indeed, as the film opens, we find him — after he regales his co-workers with a pseudo-scientific lecture on the coming extinction of the male of the species — being unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend/boss, Joyce (Isabella Rossellini). It’s hardly surprising that she’s tired of him. The only surprise is that she ever took up with him in the first place. “I no longer wish to see you socially,” she tells him. “Find a way to deal with it.” The problem is that Roger can’t believe his ears and can’t deal with it. The question, however, becomes where can such a narrative go?
Well, that’s a bigger problem. Other than watching Roger unravel, there’s not much that can happen. So Kidd introduces Roger’s 16-year-old nephew, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg). Since Roger is getting nowhere with his own life, it naturally follows that he delights in attempting to imprint his belief system on his innocent nephew. This results in the film’s longest (in fact, seemingly interminable) stretch involving Roger taking Jesse around and instructing him in how to pick up girls — despite the fact that this is mostly an ineffectual case of the blind leading the bland.
I suppose Roger Dodger is supposed to be a bitterly amusing cautionary tale. And it might have worked on that level if the viewer was made to actually like Nick; alas, Nick is just too dull and uninteresting — and very, very too much the willing victim. This leads to a truly creepy, almost nightmarish sequence where the two crash Joyce’s party and Uncle Roger tries to hook Nick up with a woman so drunk she hardly knows where she is. Here again, this might have worked had Kidd had the courage of his apparent convictions and let Roger really hit the bottom he seems well on his way to reaching.
Instead, Kidd follows all of this with a truly incomprehensible tag scene where Roger comes to visit Nick at his school — and whatever point any of this had is suddenly reduced to a bad joke that’s just about as sleazy as its title character. If that’s your idea of a good time, have at it. It’s not mine.