Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Loser

By Kimberley Jones

JULY 24, 2000: 

D: Amy Heckerling; with Jason Biggs, Mena Suvari, Greg Kinnear, Thomas Sadoski, Zak Orth, Jimmi Simpson, Dan Aykroyd. (PG-13, 98 min.)

In Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless, writer-director Heckerling turned a snarky eye on the myths and maneuverings of high school, creating in the process a more subversive definition of each decade's prototypical adolescent. The Heckerling of old was a welcome antidote to the teen feel-good fests of John Hughes, and had Molly Ringwald wandered into a Heckerling film she probably would have gotten her little pretty-in-pink ass kicked. But everybody has to grow up sometime, and in the year 2000, Heckerling has packed her bags and gone to college. Loser is the story of Paul, a wide-eyed, farm-grown innocent (Biggs) who heads off to school in the Big Apple. Because he isn't as hip or caustic as the New Yorkers around him, Paul is immediately labeled a loser. The only person in New York who doesn't ostracize the hapless Paul on sight is Dora (Suvari), a gritty, hardened-by-the-street local, who in reality is just as sweet and sincere as Paul. Both are really quite likable, and Biggs and Suvari have a nice chemistry going on together. For the supporting cast, Heckerling uses types rather than fully fleshed-out characters. This technique worked well in Clueless, a film that, by playing up its superficiality, actually managed to achieve a real heart. Even as Heckerling mocked her characters, it was obvious she loved them too. But here, the types/targets are too easy, like a professor (Kinnear) who hits on impressionable young students, or a trio of frat-thugs who find a couple of roofies are a lot quicker way to woo a girl into bed than actual conversation. We know they'll get their comeuppance in the end, so it's difficult to muster up the energy to care either way. Unfortunately, that sentiment applies to much of the film. For the most part, Heckerling has traded in her usual social comedy/commentary, opting instead for a terribly sincere love story. It's a nice, friendly kind of love, but hardly an inspiring one. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I miss the grand old days when love was something epic and forbidden ­ or at least somewhat obstacle-ridden. Perhaps modern-day love stories are merely a reflection of the times ­ these days there are few barriers to love, given the dwindling weight of class or race. Good for love, bad for moviemaking. Heckerling's excuse here for keeping the boy and the girl apart is that they're too dim to know better. However, the audience is not dim, and therefore must spend an hour and a half anticipating the eventual (typically last reel) revelation: "Hey, we belong together." Well, duh. For the next go-round, one hopes Heckerling dumps the sincere and returns to scathing. She's more fun that way.

2 Stars

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