Posts Tagged ‘Dramedy’

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REVIEW: Roger Dodger (2002)

August 8, 2010

Jesse Eisenberg’s first ever major film, Roger Dodger, is a unique coming-of-age story with enough simplicity on the surface and enough complexity beneath it to take the form of an impressively entertaining study of the social interactions between men and women. As writer/director Dylan Kidd’s first project and winner of the Best Feature Film Award at the first ever Tribeca Film Festival in 2002, this surprisingly well-done little gem will leave you wondering why it wasn’t a bigger commercial success and why Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland, The Social Network) is the only member of its production that you still see in the business on a regular basis. (No discredit to Jesse; if there’s anything Roger Dodger does reinforce, it’s the fact that he deserves every bit of success that he’s achieved).

“Sex is everywhere,” Roger Swanson, played by the show-stealing Campbell Scott (Dying Young, Big Night), tells his socially lost, 16-year old nephew, Nick (Eisenberg). Nick has traveled alone to New York City in the hopes of convincing his smooth-talking Uncle Roger into teaching him the ways of seduction so that he might end his romantic troubles by finally getting a girl and losing his virginity. While Roger is overwhelmingly cynical, incessantly arrogant, and often brutally forthright (blatantly exemplified by the motto he applies to the advertising business– “You can’t sell a product without first making people feel bad”), there is no one who knows the rules of the game better. He solidifies his tactics with an impeccable track record; he takes a woman home “every night”.

Originally reluctant to open up his one man band to the prospect of apprenticeship, Roger agrees to spread his wisdom to Nick. What follows is a night out in the city that never sleeps in a crash course in charming women. From hilariously ridiculous scenes of the two scouting out women on the streets to unexpectedly profound conversations at a bar, the night proves to be an open examination of these two previously mysterious characters.

However, the movie is far from simply a character study. While Scott’s and Eisenberg’s performances are near-perfect, the execution of the film ensures that its value is not dependent upon the quality of the acting. Behind a simple plot and seemingly simple characters is a noteworthy script that delivers witty, realistic dialogue and intriguing conversations. Free from hollywood-ized n0nsense and feel-good drivel, the scenes between the two guys and the two women they engage at a bar are perhaps the film’s best, showcasing not only Roger’s subtle tricks and Nick’s charming innocence, but also the natural chemistry between Scott and Eisenberg and the vulnerabilities they both carefully expose with their characters.

The chaotic events of the night lead to an ending that, while it strays slightly from the tone of the rest of the movie and perhaps comes a bit too suddenly, is perfectly raw and unexpected. I can’t remember being more satisfied with an ending in a good while.

All in all, Roger Dodger teaches the common moviegoer that not all good indie flicks have to be about vibrant colors, trendy folk music, and quirky families (Little Miss Sunshine, Juno). And more importantly, this smart man’s American Pie (even if that sounds like an oxymoron) proves that not every coming-of-age, cherry-popping comedy (or maybe more dramedy, in this case) has to be sullied with sloppy and overdone high school stereotypes, eye-rolling dialogue, and unlikable characters of both genders.

I’m hooked, Jesse. Keep making movies.

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REVIEW: Election (1999)

November 9, 2009

Matthew Broderick, now on the other end of the high-school society, stars alongside Reese Witherspoon in Election, a witty and occasionally dark comedy about the troubles that can emerge during high school student council elections. Director Alexander Payne (Sideways and About Schmidt) manages to find a beautiful balance between intelligent satire and compelling drama in a way that never stops being comically enjoyable. It’s as peculiarly captivating as Little Miss Sunshine and as innocently entertaining as Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.

Election time for Washington Carver High School is right around the corner and Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) already has her eye on the glorious prize– the position of student body president. Tracy hasn’t even the slightest reason to worry. She’s a confident and hardworking overachiever who has become a part of every major organization the school offers; she’ll happily raise her hand to answer any question in any class; she evens arrives to school extra early to prepare to campaign for the student signatures she needs to enter the election- a campaign complete with a corny slogan and a manipulative bowl of gum for enticement. And most important of all, Tracy has no competition in the election (not that that stops her from taking the whole matter as seriously as if it were our nation’s presidential election itself). In fact, there’s really only one tiny tidbit that could potentially harm her chances… She recently got out of a secret, but very intimate affair with a teacher who was subsequently fired after the administration found out.

Enter Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick)- a young teacher whose life has played out just as he had hoped. He’s everyone’s favorite teacher, he’s involved in the social scene of the school, and he’s one of the most highly valued supporters for the athletics department. Tracy Flick just might be the one thing that dampens his days, with her boring and rigid personality that frames her goody two shoes attitude. Even if he can’t explain it, there’s just something about her that rubs him the wrong way.

So naturally, when Tracy becomes the leading (and only) candidate in the election, Mr. McAllister, the student council administrator, can’t help but be disgruntled by her overwhelming involvement in everything. In the hopes of adding a more democratic element to the election, the three-time Teacher of the Year winner convinces injured football star Paul Metzler to enter the race, assuming that his popularity will give Tracy a challenge. And as if by domino effect, a third candidate joins the two opponents. Paul’s sister, Tammy, sees her participation as a perfect opportunity to get revenge on her brother for stealing her beloved girlfriend. Ironically, the student body responds most emphatically to Tammy’s anarchic tendencies and apathy towards school issues.

Tracy’s stress level reaches a whole new level as her desire to win nearly drives her over the edge, Tammy displays her passion for vengeance, Paul shows his embarrassingly pitiful political skills, and Mr. McAllister gets tied up in a complicated affair; all the basics of your typical high school election are carefully mixed for a remarkable end product.

The quirky atmosphere of the small town and its dysfunctional inhabitants never relents and the story utilizes such simple stereotypes in an unconventional way that makes the characters’ interactions a joy to watch. Comedic dialogue and entertaining twists around every corner, this caricature-driven work is wholeheartedly a fun film that will be especially enjoyed by those who prefer intelligent comedies with just a dab of drama. And perhaps most admirable of all, Election introduces a new type of high school comedy that drops the sleaziness and instead develops an experience that engages audiences with a story that creates plenty of laughs for those with the required number of brain cells. Not to mention, if the comedy ever falls short, it’s amusing enough just to draw parallels to the juvenile affairs of the politics of our own government and certain recent presidential elections in the U.S.

three stars

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REVIEW: Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

November 8, 2009

After Magnolia and before There Will Be Blood, came Punch-Drunk Love in Paul Thomas Anderson’s arsenal of movies. In this dark and odd romantic dramedy, Adam Sandler plays Barry Egan, a childish adult man who is still shy around women and whose seven manipulative sisters criticize and torment him into uncontrolled bursts of anger. His wholesale plunger business keeps him busy, despite the fact that he never seems to do anything productive at his office. Rather, he spends his time exploiting a loophole in a special Healthy Choice promotion by buying large amounts of pudding in order to rack up millions of free frequent flyer miles that he has no specific use for (a story that is based off of that of “Pudding Guy” David Phillips). Boring and aimless as his life may be, Egan endures with only minimal broken glass windows and few crying episodes. However, all of that changes when an interested woman becomes intent on meeting him and a phone sex hotline operator becomes violently vengeful.

Adam Sandler performs like you’ve never seen him before, and at the same time- just like you’ve always seen him. His natural childish persona is preserved, but instead of being channeled into awkwardly unfunny jokes that would more likely be heard in a middle school cafeteria, Paul Thomas Anderson finds a way to use Sandler’s juvenile behavior powers for good. Together, the two create an air of loneliness and constant distress that manages to engage the audience and evoke a sense of sympathy for the protagonist. And with added exceptional performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Mary Lynn Rajskub, Punch Drunk Love is something that prevails in its own way.

Admittedly, the movie’s dream-like nature and unconvential quirkiness isn’t quite for everyone and some might come away feeling as if they simply didn’t get it. However, those who appreciate Paul Thomas Anderson’s general quality of work and are curious to see a different side of Sandler’s abilities will certainly be charmingly pleased. To give a fair evaluation, it’s not particularly a film that most will love or hate. Moreover, it’s simply a respectable piece of work that’s well worth a viewing, at least for the experience that Anderson creates.

three stars