Amy Heckerling is our reigning teen auteur, an American youth anthropologist whose field research has, impressively, yielded teensploitation epics in all of the last three decades. Loser, the most autobiographical of her films to date, matches Paul (Jason Biggs), a likeable scholarship kid from the boondocks, with Dora (Mena Suvari), a bedraggled goth-ish firecracker from the boroughs. Both are first-year students at an unspecified college in New York City. Both get dumped on repeatedly by people who take advantage of their naïve goodness. Paul's problem is that he is a social exile amid cooler-than-thou roommates. Dora's problem is that she's struggling to put herself through school and sleeping with her professor (Greg Kinnear). Loser's problem is that it has neither a basic dilemma to resolve nor a real solution to propose.
Unlike the characters in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless or even Look Who's Talking, who puzzled out decisions and dealt with the consequences, Paul and Dora are clearly undeserving of the wrongs visited upon them, and clearly at the mercy of forces beyond their control. Paul is a good guy who gives his graduation money to his grandfather and suffers without complaint. Dora works her earnest little heart out as a waitress at a strip bar and eats free packets of honey for lunch in order to economize. Conversely, Dora's lover is a selfish bastard who abandons her at crucial moments. Paul's three roommates are sociopaths who lie, cheat and regularly make use of their sizable stash of the date-rape drug. But representing unrelenting goodness in the face of unrelenting awfulness makes Paul and Dora very passive (read: boring) characters. Lacking basic flaws to overcome or a real conflict to face up to, the duo have nothing to do but wait for the winds of change to blow better fortune their way. That might resemble the Darwinian experience of late adolescence, but as movies go, it's about as exciting as rooting for rain.