Helping your sixteen year old nephew cast off his virginity in the seamy side of the Manhattan night isn’t a spectacular premise.
Film students love the dark. They scamper to the underbelly of our culture to show us that there is more to life than the absurdity of ordinary experience. What’s left? Crime and sex. “Rodger Dodger” is all about sex and how to get it when you’re sixteen. The elegantly intelligent Campbell Scott is co-producer and star of this apparently cooperative effort of professionals and students at the N.Y.U. film school.
Mr. Scott plays Roger, an advertising copywriter who is ashamed of his profession even though he’s good at it. His avocation, appropriately for a writer of ads, is conversation. In the opening scene Roger entertains his friends - and us – with a quite fascinating protracted monologue about the inevitable disappearance of men from the reproductive process. They will, he concludes finally, be necessary to society only for heavy lifting.
Talking at the speed of an express train, Roger absorbs us for ten minutes or so before his monologues become predictable, hitting our ears with the relentlessness of a dentist’s drill. When this cynic, who refuses to talk about himself, expounds on the fear of a lonely apartment, we know he is talking from an empty well. The excuse for all this verbiage is the unexpected arrival of Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), son of the sister Roger doesn’t like and never sees. Nick has come to New York to learn from his uncle what his mother says he does best: hunt women.
Promising Nick he will lose his virginity by evening’s end, Roger takes him first to a bar where he wins a kiss and a smile from Sophie (Jennifer Beals), then off to a sex club where the boy, up to his ears in nerves and misery, is finally and mercifully rescued by Roger in an uncharacteristic show of compassion. Still determined, the two end up at a party in the high end New York apartment of Roger’s boss, Joyce (Isabella Rossellini). The first glimpse of Isabella Rossellini is quite literally breath catching. The daughter of Ingrid Bergman, radiant smile intact, is so astonishingly like her mother that movies from the past flood the minds of those of us who saw them.
Helping your sixteen year old nephew cast off his virginity in the seamy side of the Manhattan night isn’t a spectacular premise. Roger, taking care of Nick in his own fashion, is so encrusted in cynicism and loneliness that he can’t recognize the seed of redemption inside himself. Campbell Scott succeeds mightily in being the sour swordsman who uses words as weapons. In one, or maybe two, moving moments, he reacts beautifully when he sees the essential decency of his nephew.
So that’s it, a great beginning lasting ten minutes, a nice ending lasting half that long and a slow midsection where we must try to figure out who’s who in all that darkness. The film students may have had fun making it, but it’s not much fun for the audience.
Copyright (c) Illusion
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