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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Revisiting Single White Female

Jennifer Jason Leigh  in Single White Female (1992)
She's aiming for Leighton Meester

In the wake of The Roommate, I found it all but necessary to take two hours and revisit the mother of all psycho roommate thrillers. The incomparable Single White Female.

Of course, without being an official remake, The Roommate shares more than a few key plot lines with its predecessor. Elements of fashion design, the psycho stalker girl doing something to resemble the obsession, the "high heel" scene is represented in The Roommate, in a head-shakingly similar fashion. I wish they would just come out and say that it's a remake. It wouldn't have been critically bashed as badly. Make no mistake, it still would have flopped. But, at least half of the reviews would have been shorter and a wee bit less scathing.

More after the cut --

The thing that makes Single White Female the go-to for this type of movie is exactly what makes The Roommate an utter failure - commitment to the genuineness of the 'bad guy'. Or 'girl', as the case may be. SWF excels in this area by giving Hedy (played with genius by Jennifer Jason Leigh) opportunities to remain vulnerable and sympathetic in the viewers eyes.

For those who are unfamiliar with the film, the basic plot is this - Allie (played with the same amount of genius by Bridget Fonda) recently broke up with her boyfriend and is now all alone in a gigantic, if stereotypical, New York apartment. She advertises for a roommate, asking for a titular single white female to occupy the space. Hedy responds to the ad, and all hell eventually breaks loose. Of course, this could all be standard slasher fare, but Barbara Schroder's direction - meticulous direction, I should say - keeps it from being so.

Her approach to the piece is operatic. She leaves room for grandeur and allows the actors to inhabit their characters in a startling manner. Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance, thus, has become something of an icon to the genre. The film itself, while vivid and lovingly put together, might not be a staple, but Leigh's work (and subsequently, the images produced from her work) is. The film is a famous one, and one that inspires parody left and right, but it is famous because of its villain. Were it not for that performance, the images of the character and the film around her would not matter nearly as much.

That isn't meant to discredit the other aspects of the film. Steven Weber brings an ultimately sleazy charm to his role, and Bridget Fonda's diminutive portrayal of the stalked is full of life and color, ironic considering how internal she keeps her performance. They work wonders with a tight and psychologically sound, if not a little broad, screenplay and remarkably succinct direction from Schroder. It's a flamboyant idea, from an equally flamboyant novel, orchestrated with care and precision.

Unfortunately, the idea has been rehashed and abused since. But, this film (while no where close to the first of its kind) has become recognized as a template of sorts. It's like how a generic product will always be called the brand name of its counterpart.