NOTE: This was the second of these, written back for my Livejournal back when I was still on Livejournal. However, it does not appear to have been web-archived, and besides, I might as well rewrite it now. So this is a revamped version of the original article.
Loser was just further evidence that Jason Biggs’ career was over before it even started, which is kind of a shame because Jason Biggs has always been one of those actors who deserved better than he got: what he got, sadly, was “hey, it’s that guy who had sex with the pie in American Pie.” It didn’t help that beyond the Pie franchise he made some truly wretched choices: Boys and Girls and Saving Silverman is a one-two punch of horrible that could kayo most careers, but then Biggs made the poor decision to go ahead and appear in Jay and Silent Bob as himself and let Kevin Smith mock his only real achievement. And American Pie was an achievement for Biggs, because he played a dorky character without a shred of self-consciousness and thus made said dork a hero. It’s not something to be ashamed of, or run away from – it is something to be owned.
Loser follows suit as Biggs plays to his strength: he is the title character, a giant dork from the sticks named Paul who’s going to NYU and who just doesn’t fit in with mean big city life. Of course, in his native environment, he is widely admired by friends and family who think he’s just the greatest guy ever (Dan Aykroyd makes a brief cameo as his dad, giving him advice: “remember, son, interested is interesting“). But in New York City, he is just another schmoe, and unfortunately for him, he truly is a massive dork. Of course, the film goes in a farcical direction by having his roommates be wholly awful human beings: roofie-using date-rapist trust-fund babies who, while amusing, might as well be wearing HATE ME signs around their necks. Similarly terrible as a person is his professor, played by Greg Kinnear in full-on smarm mode, and who is dating the girl he likes, Dora, played by Mena Suvari. (Who is another “whatever happened to…” actor, having last appeared that I can remember in the not-very-good Day of the Dead remake, which was only notable for having Ving Rhames star in a second Romero-remake after Dawn of the Dead but as a totally different character.)
What makes Loser work, for me at least, is that it is honest about New York, which means being honest about great cities generally. It acknowledges that New York is an exciting place, filled with culture and vitality and unpredictability in a way that Paul’s hometown will never qute have. But it does this at the same time as it acknowledges that part and parcel of that vibrancy that cities have is a nasty streak, and by that I don’t mean to refer to Paul’s horrible roommates or teacher, who are stock villains; instead I refer to the fact that, when Paul and Dora go about town on their date, they are flat broke and have to figure out how to do things for free – sneaking into theatres at intermission, tooling around art galleries without paying, snagging a loaf of bread without paying (how very Les Miserables). The city might let them abide, but it is not greatly sympathetic to them, and this is an honest thing to say about any city, let alone one as romanticized as New York.
Loser doesn’t play up Paul’s decency to mirror off of his foils’ worthlessness; it doesn’t have to do that. All Loser does is present two reasonably nice people in a not-nice world, and have at it with them without pandering, and treat them generally with respect while surrounding them with a cynical, cruel world. They survive, of course – this is a comedy. But it has grit to it which I like.