Loser [2000]

Writer-director Amy Heckerling has a way with teen comedies, from Fast Times at Ridgemont High to Clueless and now Loser. She manages to take the clich├ęs of life in school and spin them into cinematic gold. Part of her secret is that she genuinely seems to respect all of her characters, even the unsavory ones. In Loser, Paul Tannek (Jason Biggs from American Pie) is a farm-town boy who's gotten himself a scholarship to a fancy Manhattan college. He's worried that he's not going to fit in with the sophisticated city crowd. Well, he's right to worry. He doesn't fit in, which his three dorm-mates are quick to remind him. The only person he can talk to is Dora (Mena Suvari from American Beauty), a cocktail waitress-student who's having an affair with a pretentious lit teacher (Greg Kinnear). Biggs is great in this movie, the perfect straight man, setting up jokes that wouldn't work without his reactions to them. In fact, the whole movie is so well-cast--Suvari is charming, Kinnear is entertainingly smug, the three dorm-mates are fun to dislike--that the actors, working in tandem with Heckerling, give a life to characters that in less talented hands would have been revealed as over-determined and exaggerated. Pardon the blurb, but it's true: Loser is a winner.--Andy Spletzer

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