20 Years Ago: 'Roger Dodger' Saw a Lot of Things Coming | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS
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20 Years Ago: ‘Roger Dodger’ Saw a Lot of Things Coming 

Director Dylan Kidd‘s Roger Dodger didn’t exactly make a huge splash when it landed in the fall of 2002, 20 years ago last week, but it’s a movie that always stayed with me after I saw it — and revisiting it now, I can see that it saw a lot of things coming well in advance. 

The film has a hell of a hook: Campbell Scott is Roger, a 40-ish New York ad executive who takes what he sees as the ethos of his profession — my target is unhappy, and I’m here to sell them a solution — and applies it to his romantic life. 

Speaking in long monologues, he’s what’s now a familiar type, although one that was less so two decades ago: A pick-up artist, a men’s-rights guy, a casual misogynist, and someone who’s spent a lot of time reading Jordan Peterson. His monologues, as shown in the film’s opening scene, lean considerably on evo-psych bullshit:

He does a lot of what’s known as “negging,” but takes it even further, going up to women in bars with lines like: “If I had a week to study your father and all the ways he ignores you, I could come up with a schtick you’d be helpless to resist.” 

And while Roger is undoubtedly charismatic, we soon get the sense that he’s alone, unhappy, and sort of pathetic; and also that he doesn’t seem to be all that good at picking up women. 

Shortly after being dumped by his boss/lover Joyce (Isabella Rosellini), Roger is surprised by his nerdy 16-year-old nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg, in his first movie rule, but looking unmistakably like himself). The family is mostly estranged, but Nick knows enough to be aware that Roger is a notorious womanizer, and hopes that his uncle can get him laid, or at least show him how to do better with the ladies.

Roger starts off by giving Nick lessons in stuff like how to stare at a woman on the street without her noticing, but then they proceed to actual nightlife. The film’s centerpiece is a long scene where the two of them flirt in a bar with a pair of ladies (the unlikely duo of Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley), and neither the star of Flashdance nor of Showgirls can resist the charm of this nerdish 16-year-old. Between this and Tadpole, 2002 was a banner year for movies about sophisticated adult New York women being charmed by young male teenagers. 

We’re left hoping that Nick can find a way to get healthier, less-toxic advice from another male figure before it’s too late. 

Lasting Impact

I think there’s a reason this movie has stayed with me. When I first saw Roger Dodger I was a single guy in New York; I saw it late at night at the old theater known as The Screening Room, on Varick Street in Tribeca (nearby, at the Tribeca Film Festival that year, it had won Best Narrative Feature).

 At that point in my life, I was under the impression that the key to romantic success was going to bars and trying to meet women, even though I was never especially good at that. 

Roger Dodger, I think, showed the limits of that approach, and also made it look really terrible. I would meet my future wife about a year and a half later, not long after I determined the bar scene wasn’t for me. 

The film, despite good reviews, made about $2 million at the box office, and it never really gained wide cultural purchase. But it’s a movie deserving of a larger audience, and you can watch it now on Tubi, Vudu, and PLEX. 


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