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Laramie Movie Scope:
Roger Dodger

A sociopathic tour of New York

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 12, 2002 -- "Roger Dodger" is a dark, but entertaining journey into the mind of a sociopath named Roger Swanson (brilliantly played by Campbell Scott of "The Spanish Prisoner"). This movie is dark and disturbing, but also surprisingly funny. This is one of those dreaded coming-of-age stories, but fortunately, a very unsual one.

Roger writes advertising copy for an agency in New York. When we first see him, a torrid affair with his boss, Joyce (Isabella Rossellini of "Big Night") is just ending, and not by his choice. We immediately see that beneath Roger's urbane, sophisticated exterior lies a deep anger. This anger boils to the surface often in the movie. He does not take rejection well. It is possible that he has real feelings for Joyce, and that is the reason for his anger, but that seems unlikely, given the hostility he throws around. Roger's 16-year-old nephew, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) comes to visit Roger, asking for advice about women, hearing that Roger is "a ladies man." Roger quickly takes up the challenge, showing Nick various surreptitious techniques for looking down blouses and up skirts. Women are the prey, he explains, to be conquered by any means necessary. Lying is one of the main tools in Roger's arsenal. He lies often and well, revealing as little about his true self as possible. He is looking for sex, not love, which requires willing intimacy and vulnerability.

One of the more telling encounters during their long night together involves two women they meet at a bar, Andrea (Elizabeth Berkley of "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion") and Sophie (Jennifer Beals of "The Anniversary Party"). The two women quickly spot Roger for the phoney he is, but they are quite taken by Nick's honesty. Roger becomes increasingly hostile as the two women pay more attention to Nick, who uses his inexperience and vulnerability to good advantage. Roger is especially angry when Nick reveals personal things about Roger's family, including how he got the nickname "Roger Dodger." Roger, it seems, has been evading truth, intimacy and responsibility for his actions his whole life. Roger's gifts include a keen ability to observe and size up people (he would have made a great poker player), and a very smooth and incisive way of talking. Unfortunately, he uses these gifts to hurt or manipulate other people.

By the end of the movie there seems to be a slight change in both Nick and Roger. Each seems to have influenced the other. We can only hope these influences are for the better, but that isn't the real point of the movie. It is more of a character study, a snapshot of a short period of time during which two different people happen to come together for an encounter that is like a volatile chemical reaction. The opening scene of the movie, with Roger holding court at a table of colleagues, is priceless. It is Roger at his best, holding forth on an outrageous social theory and defending it brilliantly. It tells us a lot that Roger fails to laugh at the very funny jokes made by others during this conversation. He is very focused and determined to win at the art of conversation. No time for fun. There is a similar scene at the end of the movie, but this time it is at a table of teenaged boys, which is probably an appropriate age group for Roger, since he never really grew up. At one point in the movie, Joyce tells Roger he needs to act like an adult. It is good advice, but Roger doesn't take it.

The performances in "Roger Dodger" are excellent, highlighted by Campbell and Eisenberg. There is a lot of dark comedy in the film, which keeps it from being depressing. The overwhelming personality of Roger is also nicely offset in the script (by Dylan Kidd, who also directs the film) by characters who spot Roger's sociopathic ways and shut him down. Time after time, we see people in the film stand up to Roger and face him down. This gives the film needed balance. It puts Roger's antics in perspective. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)