F.I.LM. of the Week (August 12, 2011)

12 08 2011

Long before Jesse Eisenberg got slapped by Laura Linney, worked at an amusement park with the annoying “Twilight” chickfought zombies, escorted grey-haired Michael Douglas around a college campuscreated social networks, or robbed a bank with a bomb strapped to his chest, he made one heck of a performance in a little movie called “Roger Dodger,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  His cinematic debut at the age of 19 still stands as one of his most impressive works, full of the same richness, depth, and neuroticism that has made the Oscar-nominated actor one of the brightest shining faces of a new Hollywood order.  Alongside seasoned pros like Campbell Scott and Isabella Rossellini, Eisenberg propels the movie to some impressively high heights.

Long before Ryan Gosling turned bar pick-ups into an art in “Crazy Stupid Love,” Campbell Scott’s Roger Swanson saw everything in the world through the lens of sex.  In a brilliant take on evolution in the opening scene, he composedly explains how it is the final utility to left to man – and how in the future, once it’s gone, men will be totally obsolete and unnecessary.  Soon after, he’s dumped by his stalwart mistress and boss Joyce (Rossellini) and left in the doldrums to wallow in fear of his irrelevance.

But a surprise comes in the form of his 16-year-old nephew Nick, played by the tense and naive Eisenberg, who has heard that his uncle is quite the libido-driven lothario and wants a sort of real-world sex-ed class.  Roger begins by exposing Nick to all the sex around him that he’s totally oblivious too and then dumps him in situations for seduction with some beautiful older women.  Despite being with a living, breathing manual for these kinds of moments, Nick can never execute, scaring Roger into thinking that the night will have to end with a prostitute.

It’s a fascinating evening as Nick is forced to confront his sexual limits amidst Roger’s mid-life crisis which is forcing him to confront the implications and consequences of his own sexual behavior.  Scott and Eisenberg animate these fascinating self-examinations with a humorous yet probing seriousness.  They are undoubtedly helped by writer/director Dylan Kidd, whose script is intelligent and asks some challenging questions to both the characters on screen and the audience watching them.  A fan can only hope that Eisenberg keeps getting golden material like this to highlight his exceptional showmanship.