Mostly disregarded as yet another in a rash of teen films released in the wake of American Pie (possibly because it shares some of its lead actors) and far from being simply the film which features the Wheatus song 'Teenage Dirtbag', Loser is a heartfelt, warm and intelligent romance about two kindred spirits just about holding on to their university dream through the worries that many students have in real life - about finance and accommodation problems inhibiting the ability to study. As writer and director Amy Heckerling (famous for Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless) notes in the dvd sleeve notes:
"I wanted to do something closer to my experience in college. So I decided to tell the story about the people who don't have the money to buy new things, the people who don't have it all, who don't fit in - the sort of displaced characters, the people that are not invited to the party."Obviously I'm going to empathise because I've never really had money and truth be told I can see myself within both sides of the main couple; like Paul (Jason Biggs) I spent most of my first year at university, in halls, trying to work as hard as I could whilst everyone else was partying around me - I ate in the uncool cafeteria food and worked until late in the library. More heartbreaking though is the story of Dora (Mena Suvari) living out of town and commuting to college something I did too for my Masters - although unlike Dora I never found a solution and I'm not sure any of hers would have worked for me (you'll see what I mean).
The film's treatment of supporting characters could be seen as a wobble - Paul's three frat boy roommates and Edward (Greg Kinnear), Dora's lecherous lecturer boyfriend are fairly stereotypically drawn - but this can be interpreted as a way of underlining the complexity of the heroes - in the same way that the face in a portrait is highlighted because it's more finely drawn than the impressionistic clothing or background. Some have also criticised the film for not being funny enough, but I don't think it's really trying to be -- there aren't that many 'jokes' because it's not that kind of comedy.
Offering probably Jason Biggs' career best performance, Mena Suvari too is just adorable, demonstrating what loss it's been since her career dropped into bit parts and tv roles. It's also a great New York film featuring Times Square, Greenwich Village, Soho, Washington Square Park and particularly Grand Central Station the floor of which becomes Dora's home away from home. This is the Say Anything of the late-nineties teen cycle and I don't use that description lightly. And it's still available from all good (and some bad) dvd stockists...