Sex is all around us. It's in every exchange, every silence, every gesture. You just have to be attuned to it.
That's the theory of ladies' man Roger (Campbell Scott), a silken-tongued ad exec who's like a "fucking lightning rod" when it comes to picking up vibes. So who better to guide timorous 16-year-old Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) on a night-long odyssey to demystify the alluring-yet-terrifying enigma that is modern woman?
A cogent take on the bloody battle of the sexes, Dylan Kidd's terrific writer/director debut falls somewhere between Swingers and In The Company Of Men. Beginning with anxious nephew Nick turning up in his loquacious uncle's office, it follows mentor and pupil on to the Manhattan streets. Nick is introduced to alcohol, women (Elizabeth Berkeley, Jennifer Beals) and the art of seduction; we come to know the real Roger beneath the polished bullshit - - angry, wounded, misogynistic - and really rather sad.
Shot in a handheld, off-the-cuff style that renders the viewer a peeping tom - - ceaselessly jostling to keep up, to listen in - - Roger Dodger has an endearing, dog-eared quality. Scuffed as a kid's trainers, its aesthetic forms an intriguing counterpoint to Roger's polished wit and wisdom, keeping this (pleasingly) talky movie active and urgent.
Of course, boasting the kind of script that you would happily read on a train helps tremendously, and having two stand-out performances at the film's heart doesn't hurt either. Scott proves a revelation as shark-with-a-brain Roger, verbally attacking his prey before offering to nuzzle their wounds better. And newcomer Jesse Eisenberg nails the part of sweet, awkward Nick, a guy whose very value system is dismantled over the course of a few hours. Yet, vitally, the females of the species all emerge as strong, intelligent and clued-up women, Isabella Rossellini, Beals and Berkeley ensuring their characters are markedly in charge of their own destinies. Highly recommended.