Monday, November 15, 2010

Single White Female

For some reason, I had it in my head that Single White Female was supposed to be an awesome thriller.  I'm not sure why I was so convinced of that before I even saw the movie, but it wasn't because of the director or the co-leading actresses.  Unless the movie was touted as a "sexy thriller," I don't see why I would think that a Bridget Fonda/Jennifer Jason Leigh vehicle would ever be too special.  Oh, wait...Steven Weber is in it.  Maybe that explains it.  Or not.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I saw Single White Female.  Allie (Bridget Fonda) is engaged to Sam (Steven Weber), but Sam is a cheating scumbag and slept with his ex-wife.  But is that really cheating?  Really, it's more like sleeping in your childhood bed than actively seducing someone.  Apparently, Allie is a prude with no sense of perspective, because she kicks Sam out of their rent-controlled NYC apartment.  Allie is a software designer, and her business is about to take off, but she apparently doesn't have enough income to pay for her RENT-CONTROLLED apartment on her own, so she places an ad for a roommate.  She chooses Hedy, an introverted but sweet country girl.  At first, Hedy's nice to have around, but she doesn't have a job...or any friends...or a life.  She just wants to hang out with Allie.  That's fine, I suppose --- I've roomed with a bum, too --- but it gets creepy when Hedy starts borrowing Allie's clothes.  And masturbating with the door open.  And then she dyes her hair and cuts it to match Allie's bob, so they look like sisters.  I would have kicked my roomie out after stage one, but Allie is horror-movie-stupid and just ignores the danger signs.  Since she's obviously fixated on Allie, I bet Hedy handles Allie and Sam getting back together with grace and aplomb.  Oh, wait...this is a thriller.  Maybe not so much.

Director Barbet Schroeder does a good job telling the story here, but since it's just a high-concept plot, that's not terribly impressive.  His handling of tone was inconsistent at best, though.  His cast isn't anything special, either, but he manages to get acceptable performances from all, although I don't think anyone's performance stood out particularly.  To be fair, Jennifer Jason Leigh comes across as completely crazy, in a I-knew-a-chick-like-this-in-college way.  I would have liked it better if they didn't try to explain why she's crazy; she has all the makings of an evil villain, but the story tries to humanize her, and the character loses some of her edge as a result.  Bridget Fonda is still the least talented Fonda, but she's almost attractive enough to get away with her awful haircut.  Almost.  As far as her acting goes, she almost gets away with that haircut.  Almost.  The rest of the cast (Steven Weber, Peter Friedman, and Stephen Tobolowsky) are serviceable, but nothing special.  Tobolowsky went outside of his normal "dry white toast" persona to play a more aggressive nerd, but it didn't really come off as believable.  I don't mean to challenge the Dilberts of the world, but seeing him as a sexual predator and macho man just seemed unlikely.  Weber's character didn't have much depth, but I thought he did a good job being creeped out by Jennifer Jason Leigh, even if their shared scenes are not particularly effective; their last scene together, while supposed to be frightening, ends up being pretty hilarious.

Maybe I went into this movie with too high of expectations.  This isn't a movie that catches you off-guard with the plot; like a train ride, you know where it's going, but you're not sure what you will see on along the way.  The roommate-from-hell concept is pretty basic, but I can't think of any other film I've seen that has devoted the entire story to it.  So, I guess this movie deserves some credit for making a watchable movie that can actually be described accurately by a pitch man.  But being "watchable" is not the same as being "good."  Single White Female has entered the lexicon as a term synonymous with psychotic roommates, so it was clearly effective at the time of its release.  But it's really not very good.  Most of the actions taken by Hedy are supposed to be scary, but are just ridiculous.  When Hedy kills should be when the film is at its scariest, but her seemingly benign actions, like cutting her hair, end up being the memorable moments.  That points to a problem with the tone of the movie, which means that Barbet Schroeder may have told the plot competently, but he did not tell the story well.

I would like to point out the unlikely situation where Allie has to put out a personal ad to get a roommate.  She has a cheap apartment (that she somehow can't afford) and owns her own business, and yet the only platonic friendship she has is the gay guy that lives above her?  Forget friends, you expect me to believe that she doesn't have any acquaintances that would jump at the chance to live in a rent-controlled apartment?  And the solution to Allie's rent problem is to room with the one applicant that doesn't have a job?  That's just stupid.

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