Any salesman will tell you that his opening pitch is his most important one; you have to grab a customer in that first second otherwise they're gone. Appropriately, for a film that is essentially about advertising, Roger Dodger does its best work in its first three minutes. In the opening scene, set in a crowded Manhattan coffee shop, Campbell Scott's slimy copywriter delights his co-workers with a smart, off-the-cuff monologue about how the male species will be rendered obsolete in the future. The cynical wordsmith, and sexual Darwinist, delivers a compelling argument that intercourse is a purely functional act and, at that, one designed to satisfy men and not women-now, with the advent of science, men can be removed from the equation entirely. If that evolutionary theory sounds like an unpleasant one, five minutes spent with Scott's ad man could make any woman a believer.
A Cinderella indie story, first-time director and writer Dylan Kidd found backing for his little film at the first annual Tribeca Film Festival where, after winning the award for Best Narrative Film, the picture was picked up for a major distribution deal by Artisan (quite a feat on multiple levels). The production details are almost as wonderfully clandestine with Kidd convincing a well-known star in Campbell Scott to come aboard after approaching the actor in a Greenwich Village coffee shop.
That Roger Dodger had such humble beginnings is only a footnote, but it does drive home the reality that Kidd's picture is an entirely script-driven endeavor. Although the filming is somewhat atmospheric, what's really on display in this freshman effort is the dialogue itself. As the self-loathing, womanizing Roger Swanson, Scott slithers through the film delivering barbs and theories about the opposite sex and the battlefield that is dating, like a man on a defeatist mission. More than anything else, Roger Dodger is a platform for these pithy sound bites, with Scott's cynical executive erasing the line between hocking products to consumers through commercials and luring the opposite sex with one liners: in the end the point is to make the target feel worse about themselves so they'll invest in whatever might be dangled before them.
The receptacle for Roger's wealth of useless, and possibly damaging, dating tips is his sensitive and naïve nephew, Nick (Jess Eisenberg). Supposedly in town for an interview at Columbia, the youngster pleads with his uncle to take him out on the town and reveal the secrets of a bona fide "ladies man." Hoping to lose his virginity, Nick trots after his self-centered, egomaniacal relative and tries to hammer Roger's embittered view of the world, and women, into his brain. As such, the teenager must come to terms with the idea that dating is a "reduction" game, that lying is an essential part of the chase and that, ultimately, women "don't know shit."
Of course the gospel according to Roger, who himself is reeling from being rejected by his beautiful and grounded older boss (Isabella Rosselini), is as much for our consumption as it is for Nick's. And, while Kidd's script is rife with a number of gems about the minefields of man-to-woman combat, the film stumbles on its own edginess, mistaking Roger's disturbing doctrine for humorous banter. Even still, Roger Dodger delivers two delightful and compelling characters in its disparate male leads and, even if it does ultimately fumble by endorsing the despicable ramblings of its self-decried king scumbag, it's still fun to go along for the verbal joyride.
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