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Roger Dodger (2002)

Sex is everywhere

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 106 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Opening with brash alpha-male Roger Swanson (Campbell Scott) lecturing his white-collar colleagues about the imminent obsolescence of the male species, ‘Roger Dodger’ is about one man’s terrible defeat in the battle between the sexes. The day after Roger is dumped by his girlfriend (and boss) Joyce (Isabella Rossellini), he receives a surprise visit from his teenage nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), who wants his playboy uncle to teach him about girls, sex and love. That evening, their sexual odyssey from a Manhattan bar to a party at Joyce’s to a basement brothel reveals a child-like instructor who has a lot to learn from his inexperienced pupil.

From ‘Gigi’ to ‘The Last Detail’, from ‘Star Wars’ to ‘Wall Street’, from Training Day to just about any recent Al Pacino vehicle (‘Scent of a Woman’, ‘Donnie Brasco’, ‘The Devil’s Advocate’, The Recruit), storylines which involve a young man’s initiation at the hands of an older father figure into the ways of the world have proven irresistible to filmmakers, combining elements of Oedipal conflict, the crisis of masculinity and the generational gap in a neat coming-of-age package. What makes ‘Roger Dodger’ hold its own is the razor-sharp script by Dylan Kidd (who also directs for the first time), and the decision to focus more on the fall of the rakish teacher than the rise of his student – even if in the end it turns back to Nick and the question of whether he is an alternative model of man, or just another Roger-in-waiting.

Roger’s determination to ‘go down swinging’ makes him a strangely sympathetic monster. In scenes that will have you cringing in your seat, he cruelly dissects women’s characters to their faces, and yet barely concealed behind his fast-talking misogynistic swagger is the much deeper vulnerability, fear and self-loathing of a man approaching his middle age who has been brought to the bitter realisation that he has neither friends, nor partner nor family to love him. Campbell Scott gives a phenomenal performance, making Roger’s complex malevolence something tangible and tragic. Jesse Eisenberg conveys with ease Nick’s awkward lust and essential decency – and Elizabeth Berkley and Jennifer Beals are superb as Andrea and Sophie, two women targeted by Roger in the bar who prove to be more than a match for him, and who provide Nick with valuable supplementary material to Roger’s lessons in sex.

Roger Swanson’s swansong is full of cruelty, pain, despair and rancour, making ‘Roger Dodger’ a sophisticated comedy as black as bile. This remarkably mature piece of film-making suggests that independent cinema has a new Kidd on the block.

It's Got: Clever, snappy dialogue, superb acting, and a central character who is deliciously odious.

It Needs: A girlfriend.


Roger's long dark night of the soul reveals a character whose deep flaws prove that those who can't, teach, making him compulsively watchable and excruciatingly entertaining. Highly recommended, except to any male having a midlife crisis.