CLOSE-UP: REVIEW - ROGER DODGER. A story of misogyny and disillusionment in the dark heart of New York's ad scene

John Donnelly reviews this bitter and charming tale of a self-loathing copywriter.

Hollywood and the advertising business - although strikingly similar in many ways - are poles apart. Adland loves the movies, yet, almost uniformly, the movies hate adland.

Why do we get such bad celluloid? Probably because of the perception that the industry is constantly stealing the tinsel from Tinseltown.

A new movie from the US, Roger Dodger, offers no succour. Sadly, we're still held in contempt.

We meet ad man Roger Swanson right off the bat, in a coffee bar holding forth with some friends. There's no initial clue that he works in advertising - he's actually a suit-and-tie-wearing copywriter. All we get is the instant hit that he's an arrogant, cocksure son-of-a-bitch who hates himself, his work and especially his women.

And, if we're to believe him, he's had (and is having) a lot of the latter.

When Roger arrives at his place of work - the point at which we find out he's a big, bad ad man - he has a surprise waiting in the form of his 16-year-old nephew Nick (beautifully played by Jesse Eisenberg). He's in town from Ohio. Nick has heard all about the ultimate ladies' man Uncle Roger from his mom. And he wouldn't mind watching and learning at the feet of The Great Man.

Roger takes Nick to lunch and the masterclass begins. How to understand women, to look at them, to talk to them, to impress them, to manipulate them. And, most important, how to break Nick's duck in the virginity department.

The ad world that Roger's so disillusioned with ("I sit here and think of ways to make people feel bad ... you have to remind them that there's something missing from their lives ... and when they're feeling sufficiently incomplete, you convince them that your product is the only thing that can fill the void." Hmm. That's proper disillusionment, that is) is left to fester, as Roger and Nick hit the town.

Their bitter, awkward, funny, sweet and charming tale unfolds in which both men find things out about themselves that they never would have dreamed.

Roger Dodger is director Dylan King's first feature (he says he's just happy not to be working in a video shop - shades of Tarantino). And his debut effort has already won Best First Film at the Venice Film Festival. It's also won Best Narrative Feature Film at the Tribeca Film Festival. So for a new boy, he ain't done too bad.

King has said that he wanted Roger Dodger to feel like a "stolen" film, as if the camera just happened to be there and caught the moments. He also wanted to be virtually "in" his characters' faces.

From the very first frame of the movie, we're about as up close and personal as anybody could get - almost all the time. Long-lensed and wobbly cammed to the hilt. The New York locations are hardly needed, we're in such intimate proximity with the players. The point of view moves constantly - peering through pot plants, past cocktails, over shoulders, in and out of focus, flaring, jarring.

And what could have been just a bunch of heads dully reading King's script (he wrote and produced, too - the man has no right to be so talented) is far, far from dull.

The quality of the actors and the excellence of their performances just doesn't let that happen. There's nowhere to hide and no room for over-acting. Isabella Rossellini is here in a small but nonetheless important role, and she doesn't let the side down.

Two of the biggest and pleasantest surprises are Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley, playing two sassy girls that Roger and Nick meet in a bar.

An unkind reviewer might call these two ladies "lightweight" acting talent.

But he'd be so wrong. They act their socks off here - a welcome change for Berkley, who peeled her socks off (along with everything else) in Showgirls.

The casting director for the production - the exquisitely named Laylee Olfat - had a tough time persuading King even to audition Berkley. But Olfat persisted. And, for that, King should be grateful.

Campbell Scott, as Roger, makes us hate him, laugh at him, cringe at him and feel desperately sorry for him. If you're not familiar with Scott, that's just fine. His anonymity can only supply more glue to King's obsessed, closely observed storytelling.

Make no mistake, though. Scott has done lots. He's been in The Spanish Prisoner with Steve Martin and Singles with Matt Dillon. He's also co-produced a movie or two, including Roger Dodger.

Jesse Eisenberg - the young actor who plays Nick - has scenes with Scott, Beals and Berkley that are stand-outs. Dead honest, funny and warm, without a trace of archness or schmaltz. It's tough to do, yet done well.

Roger Dodger was released in the US last year (that's how it's already an award winner ) and its release over here, sadly, isn't all that general. Look for it at the Wimbledon multiplex and you'll probably be disappointed.

And there's not a huge amount in the movie to please the avid "ad-business-on-the-silver-screen" spotter. But, if you can find Roger Dodger, it's well worth a watch. Especially if you work at Young & Rubicam - the agency gets a namecheck within the first ten minutes.

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