Reviewed by: Dr. Kenneth R. Morefield
|Featuring:||Jason Biggs, Tom Sadoski, Mena Suvari, Zak Orth, Greg Kinnear|
|Producer:||Twink Caplan, Amy Heckerling|
Jason Biggs plays Paul Tannek, a college student from Wisconsin, who wins a scholarship to a New York school where he has trouble fitting in. He develops a crush on his literature classmate, Dora (Mena Suvari), who is involved in a secret relationship with their college professor. “Loser” is rated PG-13 for sexual content (Dora works as a waitress in a strip bar), drug and alcohol abuse (Paul’s roommates use drugs to rape several coeds), and some mild language. The principle characters steal bread from a bakery and sneak into a Broadway theater at intermission without paying. Positive themes include Paul’s refusal to cheat on an exam in order to maintain a scholarship, kindness to animals (Paul and Dora help save a newborn kitten), Dora’s unwillingness to steal from drunk customers at the bar, and Paul’s relationship with his father (Dan Akroyd in a cameo role).
“Loser” is your standard “nice guy pines after and eventually wins the girl” flick. It gains slightly above average marks on the basis of the chemistry between the lead actors, with Suvari especially managing to distance herself from her “American Beauty” cheerleader character. Heckerling’s writing here relies a little too much on cliché (the boyfriend whom everyone sees is a boor except the heroine, the roommates who are so one-dimensionally evil that nobody could live with them). The lack of development of the supporting cast is a major weakness in films of this genre. For the romantic tension to work, the audience must not only want to see the principles get together, but understand why they aren’t. By making Kinnear’s character such a jerk, the film succeeds in making us want Dora to go with Paul, but it also makes us impatient with her. Why does she stay with this guy that treats her so poorly? What does she get out of this relationship that compensates for her disappointments?
At times Nora seems independent and strong willed (such as when she sleeps at the train station, applies for night jobs, or tells her boyfriend he misunderstands Kafka), but at other times she seems like a weak doormat (such as when she is fired from the strip bar and begs to be able to finish the shift or when she awakes from a hospital stay and shrugs about getting a “ruthie”). Also, the writing suffers a little bit from having characters reveal plot points in dialogue not because there is a natural context for them to do so, but because the plot requires the “listener” (usually Dora) to know something that it previously needed to be hidden from her in order to justify her behavior.
Morals of the Story
As a tangent, I found Dora’s lack of concern about whether she was raped to be both disconcerting and inconsistent. Would this not be a logical question for a woman to wonder about if she knows she has been slipped a date rape drug and rendered unconscious at the hands of the campus predators? The audience knows she was not raped (only because her would be assailant gets fortuitously sidetracked doing a “favor” for his buddy). The way the movie shrugs off this incident is very disturbing. I understand from the context of the movie that Dora is supposed to be sexually active with her boyfriend, but is the message here that women who are not virgins don’t find rape all that traumatic? Why would Paul be so outraged when one of his roommates calls Dora a slut later in the movie that he resorts to physical violence, yet so lackadasaical about their criminal sexual practices? He does substitutes ginkgo for the ruthies in an attempt to slow their activity, but while this saves the girls at the next party, it does nothing to attempt to restrain their behavior.
Dora’s professor boyfriend (Greg Kinnear, wasted in a role with no redeeming qualities) seems more concerned about the fact that Dora has accidentally revealed their affair than he is with her physical endangerment. Early in the film he claims that his risking of his career is evidence that he loves her, yet he too seems unconcerned that she may have been raped. It is as though Heckerling started with a basically funny guy who just cares more about his career than his girlfriend and decided she could not trust the audience to dislike him, so she makes him a coward; but that is not enough, so she makes him a hypocrite; but that is not enough, so she makes him a two-timing hypocrite; but even that is not enough so she makes him a two-timing, manipulating, cowardly, hypocrite. As a result, when she finally turns to Paul, our response is not a cheer so much as a question: “what took you so long”?
Because Paul has taken care of Dora when she is sick, we tend to overlook the fact that this relationship is ultimately based on physical attraction. Paul’s actions are more honorable than his roommates, but he ultimately wants the same thing. The form of his honor is to want something better for Nora, but not necessarily what is best. Infatuation wants the girl to leave the creep so that it can possess her instead (and offers as its justification that it will treat her better than her previous owner). But isn’t true love wanting what is best for the other person? I find it interesting that Paul is reluctant to get reinvolved with Dora for fear that she “doesn’t mean it.” How does she prove to him that she “means it”? Through physical affection. Although Paul is much more honorable than his professor, I question how different the two relationships ultimately are.
And yet for all that, “Loser” is a cute little film. It is formulaic, but the formula is tried and true. If you are looking for a moral lesson or a work of art, you probably aren’t going to stumble into this film by mistake. If you are looking for an entertainment piece, it is like the Chinese buffet. It satisfies your appetite, but don’t be surprised if you are hungry again a half hour later.
The Final Word
“Loser” is a slightly above average romantic comedy, the enjoyment of which will depend upon the ability to suspend disbelief in order to overlook some plot holes and character inconsistencies. While not as sharp as Heckerling’s “Clueless” or even as funny as her “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, it does have a few genuine laughs, and the nice guy (eventually) gets the girl by virtue of his niceness. “I led them with cords of kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them” (Hosea 11:4). My Grade: C+