Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Jason Biggs, Mena
Suvari, Greg Kinnear
Director: Amy Heckerling
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer, Standard 1.33:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: Music video, four trailers, talent files, production notes, featurette
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: December 19, 2000
When I notice a new teen comedy directed by Amy Heckerling, I tend to
be drawn to it, even if initial critical response is bad.
After all, this is the woman who made two genuine classics of the genre: Fast Times at Ridgemont High, perhaps the
smartest of all said films, and Clueless, one of the funniest and most unique takes
on life in the cliques. Unfortunately,
without a brilliant screenplay and novel by Cameron Crowe or the influence of Jane Austen,
Loser doesnt quite measure up.
This is a film with two of the most appealing characters Ive
come across in the field of teen comedies, who also happen to be portrayed by two of my
favorite young actors. Paul (Biggs) is the
loser of the title character, so called because he happens to be shy, sweet, and decent
amongst a sea of beer swilling party animals at his new college. Dora (Suvari) is a smart girl who constantly makes
stupid decisions, from the jobs she takes to the people she associates with, including
having an ill-advised affair with her English professor, Edward (Kinnear).
I cant quite resist the temptation to count clichés, so here
goes (see how many of them you recognize): 1.
A smart but awkward outcast from a small town arrives at a big city school, where
he doesnt fit in. 2. He falls in love with an obviously wild
The girl is involved with a guy whom everybody and their grandmother, including the
audience, knows is all wrong for her. 4. Eventually, chance throws them together in a
situation where he can help her out. 5. The other guy, whom shes seeing, will get
credit for the good deed, up until the movie decides its time to resolve that little
complication. 6. The guy and girl live happily ever after.
In the middle of all this recycled material, though, are some truly
wonderful scenes between Paul and Dora, that are funny, touching, and often hit the target
squarely. Both Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari
manage to bring much more to their roles than are actually there, and both make their
characters strong and appealing. I liked them
so much, in fact, that I wanted to take them out of this film and put them in a better
one. They deserved to exist in a world where
the boundaries didnt seem so scripted and formulistic. Given room to grow and breathe, who knows where
these two might have gone?
Ive seen my share of the kinds of films where the fresh young
outsider becomes the easy target and outcast, and cant say Ive liked them
much. Ive really only seen one film
portray it accurately and completely, and that was Welcome to the Dollhouse. This film tries that same approach, but
dont be surprised if you end up a little resentful because of it. Paul is way too likable for us to just sit and
suffer his indignities quietly. It
doesnt help that the ones who call him loser are actually some of the
most despicable tormentors ever depicted in this kind of film. They dont merely belittle the antagonist. They commit other misdeeds like throwing parties
where they use date rape drugs on their unsuspecting girls.
And Paul is supposed to be the loser.
Is Heckerling making an ironic statement? Very
possibly, but she may have neglected to fully develop it in lieu of bringing all the old
clichés to life.
But still, there is a sweet kind of chemistry between Paul and Dora
that I warmed to
though I credit the performers more for that feat. Jason Biggs brings a real warmth, spirit, and
vulnerability to Paul
hes probably the most realistic aspect of the whole film. And Mena Suvari, who co-starred with him in American
Pie, shows a very different side from her American Beauty nymphet. Her Dora is more desperate, more confused, and
more in dire need of a guy like Paul. And,
being an English major, I have to add: Greg
Kinnear gives a dead-on accurate portrayal of a professor.
As someone whos sat through classes on Kafka like these kids have to
well, lets just say I had a few flashbacks.
Loser isnt quite the worst you can do for an evening
home with the DVD player
parts of it are genuinely winning. You just wont be able to shake the feeling
that youve seen most of it before. And
This is another quality offering from Columbia Tri Star. I only watched the anamorphic widescreen version,
and I found it to be a generally superb transfer, with strong, excellent coloring from
beginning to end. Images were crisply
rendered, with good detail, and the color palate was wide and generous. There were a couple of slightly darker scenes
where the colors went slightly unnatural, with a slight bit of softness, but these are
hardly a distraction
barely worth mentioning. Other
scenes, like the party in the animal hospital, boast extreme lighting and color
compositions, and they render quite beautifully.
One of the most prominent aspects of an Amy Heckerling film is the
music, and Loser boasts a terrific collection of mood-enhancing songs that sound
great in 5.1. Theres only minor
instances of real discretion used to differentiate front and back stages, but for the most
part, the multi-channel sound is just used to open up the listening experience and give it
ambience. The dialogue is sharp and clear
throughout, but this is the kind of film where the audio lives and dies by the music. The songs give the track its dynamics, depth and
The disc contains trailers for this movie plus three others (As
Good as it Gets, Cant Hardly Wait, Whatever it Takes), plus a music video for
Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus, talent files and a very short production
featurette (unlisted on the box), plus a booklet with some production notes. By the
way, definitely check out the trailer for this film...one of the funniest moments
apparently ended up on the cutting room floor. It involves a discussion of the
Backstreet Boys. I will say no more.
To watch Loser is to see two terrific and likable characters trapped in teen comedy cliché hell all that was really missing was a bet to see who could lose their virginity first to take it all the way. Its another good disc from Columbia Tri Star, though, and if you can get past the feelings of déjà vu all over again, you can enjoy this films warmer moments.