Review by Dustin Putman
3 stars out of 4
In the last two decades, writer-director Amy Heckerling has defined a
generation with the respective high school classics, 1982's "Fast Times at
Ridgemont High," and 1995's "Clueless." Her latest teen opus, "Loser," has
transported its characters to college, and while it probably won't catch on
in a big way like the former two pictures did, it remains a charming and
innocent-eyed romantic comedy, a teen movie that is refreshingly more serious
than most, and is not littered with raunchy jokes about sex and human
anatomy. Somewhat a throwback in tone to the '80s John Hughes era of "Sixteen
Candles," "The Breakfast Club," and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," Heckerling
gains mileage by creating and understanding characters who have thoughts,
ideas, and dreams outside of the requirements of the plot. The same can be
said for "Fast Times" and "Clueless," and that is, no doubt, the reason why
Heckerling has prospered each time she has ventured into the world of
Repairing two of the stars of last year's big hit, "American Pie," Jason
Biggs and Mena Suvari are delightfully cast as Paul Tannek and Dora Diamond,
two NYU students who are having trouble making it through their first year of
college in the Big Apple. Paul, a nice lug of a guy from the Midwest,
attempts to make friends away from home, but fails to even win over his three
obnoxious roommates (Zak Orth, Jimmi Simpson, Tom Sadoski), who spend their
time partying, getting wasted, and taking advantage of girls. Paul wants to
fit in, but cares too much about his education to risk losing his
scholarship, and soon finds himself kicked out of his dorm room and
relocating to a veterinarian clinic.
Meanwhile, Dora is simply struggling to get the money to go to the school by
working as much as possible on the side as a waitress at a strip bar, and has
begun an affair with her European Literature professor Edward Alcott (Greg
Kinnear). Out of fear of the school finding out about their teacher-student
relationship, he yearns to keep Dora a secret, and seems to only really want
her around for (1) sex, and (2) doing chores for him around his apartment as
a sort of slave.
Paul and Dora, who both share Professor Alcott's class, become good friends
when Paul's scheming ex-roommates hold a party and give Dora some roofies,
causing her to nearly OD and have to get her stomach pumped. With Alcott
listed as her next-of-kin, but him claiming that he doesn't know her, Paul
lets her stay at the vet clinic with him while she recuperates, and they
quickly bond. What Dora fails to recognize, though, is how much Paul is
starting to care for her, and how bad a relationship she is already in with
Alcott--one that she really needs to get out of.
"Loser" wins no points for originality, but then again, neither did
"Clueless," which was one of 1995's best films. Boosting a smart, savvy
screenplay and a bright, young cast, Amy Heckerling succeeds in telling an
oft-told story by writing characters who may be flawed, but are good-hearted
inside and often out.
Also helping matters is a tinge of extra realism that is rare for the teen
genre. Paul must maintain a 3.5 GPA to keep the scholarship he has earned,
but without at least a B+ in Professor Alcott's class, he won't be able to.
Not only is Dora stuck in a relationship with a big jerk, but when she is
fired at her job, she has no idea how she is going to get the money for next
semester's classes, nor how she is going to be able to keep commuting back
and forth from her suburban home to Manhattan. The desperation that both
characters possess is true-to-life, rather than the whole movie being solely
about whether the guy gets the girl, or who is going to take who to the prom.
Jason Biggs rose to stardom last year with "American Pie," and while he was
perfectly endearing there, he is even better here. His Paul is a young man
who may not be fashionably hip or a big partier, but he is sweet, morally
honest, and wants to do good in school. Constantly being pulled down by the
criticisms he receives from his roommates, Paul has no idea where he fits in,
and is unsure if he ever will, and the way he feels is made palpable by
Biggs' engaging turn.
With "American Pie," "American Beauty," and now "Loser," Mena Suvari is
shaping up to become one of Hollywood's most talented young actresses. In
just a few movies, she has played a full spectrum of diverse characters, and
has been successful in each one. Suvari's Dora is a bright girl who is
understanding to other people's feelings, and is the first person who does
not judge Paul based on how much he parties or how "cool" he is, but on what
he is like as a person. Whenever Biggs and Suvari are onscreen together, they
sparkle and are genuinely charismatic, and whenever they are in their own
individual scenes, their attractive personalities and talent carry them along.
As Paul's airhead roommates, Zak Orth, Jimmi Simpson, and Tom Sadoski, do
their jobs with flare, but have no positive qualities. The same can be said
for Greg Kinnear (2000's "What Planet Are You From?"), who has recently been
making a living playing jerks, but is so good at it that it's almost scary.
The rest of the cast are in basically cameos, from Dan Aykroyd, as Paul's
earnest father, to David Spade, as a video store clerk, to Twink Caplan, as
Dora's coworker at the strip bar.
As with "Clueless," "Loser" has got one of the strongest soundtracks for a
teen-targeted movie in recent memory, with such popular, non-mainstream fare
as "Out of My Head," by Fastball, to "Blue (Da Ba Dee)," by Eiffel 65, to an
appearance by band Everclear. And also, as with "Clueless," when the two
central characters eventually discover their true feelings and finally have
that long-awaited first kiss, it actually means something, because they don't
seem like two actors locking lips, but two real people whom we know--we just
know--have finally found the one person they deserve.
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman