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Obscure Movie Review explores films that are more-or-less mainstream (or at least supposed to be), with actors and directors you've heard of, but flew under the radar.
This 2000 film had the stars, the director, the soundtrack, and was released in the right era - so why did it under perform badly enough that it became its name?
The time to be a teenage dirtbag
From the mid 1990s through to the turn of the millennium, the teen movie genre experienced another renaissance - with comedies, dramas and horror/slashers being pitched at that segment of the market and striking gold.
One of the films that really ushered in this golden age of coming-of-age was 1995's Clueless. And five years later its director, Amy Heckerling, would helm Loser.
Small town lad Paul (Jason Biggs) receives a scholarship to study at New York University, leaving his loving and close-knit family behind, but quickly finds that the big city can be a cold and unwelcoming place. He's too amiable for his own good and when his three sleazy dorm mates realise he doesn't have anything they can exploit, they get him kicked out and he ends up staying in a room at a veterinary hospital.
Paul finds amity with Dora (Mena Suvari), a lost soul struggling to keep her place at NYU after she's fired from her bar-tending job and has to commute from where she lives with her mother outside the city. The pair hit it off but the problem is that Dora is involved with professor Alcott (Greg Kinnear), who's obviously taking advantage of her and won't actually let her stay with him - even though the alternative is sleeping in Grand Central Station after missing the last train to the suburbs.
Paul's former doom mates take a renewed interest in him, due to his new accommodation, although their true motives are sketchy to say the least. And even though he gets closer to Dora, professor Alcott starts to realise what he's got (sort of).
As the two nicest people in New York City try to find solace.
You probably noticed...
Loser is loaded with cameo appearances.
The definitive deadpan comedian, Steven Wright, plays the bar patron who's hardly making - what turns out to be - Dora's final shift an easy one. David Spade is the sordid worker at the video store and Andy Dick is a less-than-helpful office clerk.
The late Taylor Negron - who played an excellent villain in another Obscure Movie The Last Boy Scout - appears briefly as a photographer. And even though Dan Aykroyd plays Paul's father, his total screen time realistically amounts to an extended cameo.
What's in a song?
Even though the film itself tanked, the same can't be said for the lead song from its soundtrack, 'Teenage Dirtbag' by Wheatus was a huge hit.
Australia in particular loved it, here it topped the ARIA charts and stayed there for a month and was the second-highest selling single of the year 2000. In the UK it peaked at number two and it reached number seven on the American alternative list.
However, the song's lyrics and the accompanying video paint a very different version of Loser. Sure, Biggs and Suvari are in the clip, but in the movie there's no high school, no prom, no Camaro IROC, and no Iron Maiden - in fact, the concert featured is by 90s alt-rock favourites Everclear.
The only parts of the film used in the music video are at the beginning and end, when Paul is sleeping on the stairs of the dormitory - perhaps to imply that the 'Teenage Dirtbag' version of Loser was a dream. Audiences that went to the cinema expecting to see that particular interpretation might've felt slightly peeved - but we'll get to that below.
Why is it obscure?
Loser would only go onto make $18.4 million back of its $20 million budget and was widely dismissed by critics.
On paper this shouldn't have happened, Heckerling's track record - stretching back to 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High - was rock-solid. And Biggs and Suvari were still riding the wave of huge commercial success from American Pie just a year earlier, with the latter also appearing in the highly acclaimed American Beauty.
Perhaps the aforementioned 'Teenage Dirtbag' version of Loser did sell something that the film wasn't - a lighter, brighter, goofier alternative. Indeed the movie came across as bleaker, even its drab colour palette seems a world away from the music video.
The main criticism leveled at it though, was that it didn't seem to offer anything new. Which could be down to saturation of the market, after all, by this point that particular teen movie segment had enjoyed a good half-decade run.
To that end, maybe the party was over, with hindsight we can see that era was tapering off by then and a changing of the guard was occurring with a new cohort of stars taking it into the next decade. Not to mention that late 90s/early 00s age was starting to get lampooned - Not Another Teen Movie came out in 2001.
OBSCURE MOVIE REVIEWS RATINGS:
- Hidden Gem - the highest rating, a genuinely good movie that shouldn't be obscure;
- Missed Opportunity - a flawed movie that had potential but fell short for whatever reason;
- Guilty Pleasure - not a good movie, but enjoyable, think 'so bad it's good';
- Best Forgotten - obscure for a reason, don't bother with it.
Loser is a tough one to decide on.
It's not good enough to be a 'Hidden Gem', nor is it overtly flawed in a way that would make it a 'Guilty Pleasure', and definitely not so bad as to be 'Best Forgotten'. In the end it's a 'Missed Opportunity', because it's creators were on the precipice of something a bit different - even though the above-mentioned criticisms panned it as just being more of the same.
This film dipped its toe into darker subject matter; poverty in the younger population; date-rape culture; alcohol consumption at university; power imbalance in relationships; and a more austere look at the loneliness of alienation. And a darker antidote to some of its contemporaries could've been something profound.
But Loser doesn't go all the way down that road. So it ended up a teen comedy-drama that wasn't as fun as the likes of Can't Hardly Wait.
It's still absolutely worth a watch, simply because it's got a lot of heart. Even the late Roger Ebert - who only gave it two out of four stars - conceded that the chemistry between the two stars lifted it up.
And it's not too much of a spoiler - this isn't the kind of movie that has a big twist/surprise anyway - to say that the ending is very sweet.
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