Urban Cinefile
"People here in Los Angeles go to bed early - they have to because they get up early to go to the gym….they're crazy here "  -French film director Francis Veber on living in Los Angeles
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday June 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



When down-home farm boy Paul Tanner (Jason Biggs) wins a scholarship to a New York university, his father (Dan Ackroyd) is ecstatic. But Paul soon finds that life as a student in the Big Apple isn’t all he imagined. His bookish ways don’t sit well with his rich brat roommates and he has trouble making friends. Then he meets Dora (Mena Suvari) an offbeat student with money problems, and falls for her instantly. The only problem is she only has eyes for her English lit teacher Professor Alcott (Greg Kinnear). When Paul is kicked out of his dorm and Dora loses her job at a strip club, things aren’t looking bright for either of them.

"Amy Heckerling's way of making a film is to skim across the surface of a story and a world, using pop songs as bridges between brief, fragmentary scenes: much of our knowledge of the characters is gained through passing glimpses of their hairstyles, clothes and tastes in entertainment. This fast, light manner was perfectly in sync with the giddy teenage airheads of Clueless, one of the great films of the '90s (still as blissfully funny on video five years later). It works much less well in her new film Loser, a brave but scrappy mix of emotional rawness and airy whimsy. Genuinely painful scenes of humiliation and poverty jostle for space with TV-star cameos and relentless pop-culture references; the somewhat careless storytelling never manages to knit these elements into a cohesive whole. If anything anchors the movie, it's Jason Biggs, who's ideally cast as the charming, brashly innocent Paul. Part of the film's point is that Paul doesn't see himself as a loser in the first place: he's always been a popular guy in his home town, and he never stops trying to be nice to people and assuming they'll like him. As he gradually wakes up to himself, he doesn't lose his eagerness to please - but that puppy-dog grin starts to imply as well a good-natured self-mockery, an amusement at being so hopelessly uncool. One of Heckerling's strengths is this kind of small-scale work with actors: details of sensibility and personal style, moments when characters start to play round with their image or parody themselves. It's puzzling that she hasn't brought a similarly deft, nuanced touch to those aspects of the film (such as the pat moralising) which are comparatively dumb and routine. Still, despite the flaws there are many moments here to treasure."
Jake Wilson

"Amy Heckerling has to be one of America’s most subversive filmmakers. Having directed two of the most intelligent teen movies ever in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless, she returns to the genre again with Loser. While there’s a temptation to write this film off as yet another teen romance, there’s a lot going on just below the surface of Loser. Poverty, social disadvantage, substance abuse, date rape and corruption all feature in the plot; and are dealt with in quite a surprisingly subtle way. The central character, Paul (the "loser" of the title) is actually a winner in many ways; while those who seek to denigrate him are shown to be the true losers. Even Dora, played with a combination of wide-eyed innocence and worldly cynicism by Mena Suvari, who appears to be "cool" is pretty much a loser, caught in a situation not entirely of her own making. Jason Biggs backs up from American Pie with a solid performance in a role which offers him more depth than the earlier film. But the standout in the cast is Greg Kinnear as the erudite but sycophantic Professor Alcott. Whenever he’s on screen, he commands attention and his presence really pulls the film together. Watch out also for cameos from the likes of Steven Wright and David Spade. Loser is rather contrived at times (particularly in the weak ending) and doesn’t push the boundaries of the teen flick in the way Clueless did. But its heart is in the right place and if you’re prepared to give something back to it, you may well find Loser an unexpectedly welcome little film."
David Edwards

"How can we forget Jason Biggs, the pie-raping teenager in his first film, American Pie? He graduates to college in Loser, and confirms he’s about as sweet and wholesome as apple pie; a trustworthy face, simple features, and big puppy-dog eyes. It makes one wonder if his casting here - as a country-bumpkin struggling in a hip city - is just. How will audiences believe this kid would have trouble making friends anywhere - even girlfriends? The star of a movie about a goofball who’s the butt of everyone’s jokes should surely be a strange-looking dork - like the skinny kid in Road Trip or Eddie Murphy’s alter-ego in Bowfinger – and not a looker who shot to stardom in last year’s blockbuster comedy. A goofball would give the "loser" tag a little more credibility. Besides, this is the movies - goofballs rarely have American beauties like Mena Suvari falling for them. That’s the inherent problem with Loser; it’s a light-hearted, good-natured romantic comedy, but it fails to connect the dots. Biggs is just too likeable and energetic to be an authentic loser. The only real character trait that makes him "different" is his back-woods clothing. In fact, his abhorrent roommates come off bigger losers than he – with their try-hard fashions, hip-hop language, and fake tans. Suvari is every bit the beauty she was in American Pie and American Beauty, and the trust in her boyfriend professor – who treats her subserviently - proves as misplaced as Biggs’ trust in his roommates. It’s just a matter for the two misfits to find each other, and that’s about all we’re waiting for in Loser. It’s as lightweight on narrative and style as it is on humour. However, the chemistry between Biggs and Suvari is charming, and the performances are heart-warming enough to win us over. But in the face of the much funnier Road Trip and the quirkier High Fidelity, Loser, like its central character, will likely be lost in the crowd."
Shannon J. Harvey

Email this article

Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 3


CAST: Jason Biggs, Mena Suvari, Zak Orth, Thomas Sadoski, Jimmi Simpson, Greg Kinnear, Dan Aykroyd

DIRECTOR: Amy Heckerling

PRODUCER: Amy Heckerling, Twink Caplan

SCRIPT: Amy Heckerling


EDITOR: Debra Chiate

MUSIC: David Kitay


RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes



VIDEO RELEASE: January 4, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar Home Video

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020