Movie Review: ‘Roommate’ a poor knock-off of ‘Single White Female’Movie Review Saturday, February 12th, 2011
Directed by Christian E. Christiansen Written by Sonny Mallh Starring Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly and Cam Gigandet Rated PG-13 At most multiplexes
When I saw the first TV ads for The Roommate, I may have squealed, “Oh. My. God! It’s Single White Female with Leighton Meester!” In the back of my head, I knew that there were a number of factors that meant The Roommate wouldn’t be nearly as good, mostly having to do with Leighton Meester not being Jennifer Jason Leigh, Minka Kelly not being Bridget Fonda and whoever was directing the movie wasn’t going to be the great Barbet Schroeder. But who needs good when you can have camp, right?
Single White Female was a great thriller. Nerve-wracking, violent and disturbing, with Leigh’s intense, furious acting anchoring the film in a certain kind of psychological realism. But replacing Leigh with Leighton Meester, who is hilarious on Gossip Girl and delivers one-liners and insults better than anyone on Desperate Housewives, meant that the producers weren’t going for realism, or for quality. Nope, I thought, they had to be going for ridiculous.
Alas. The only thing ridiculous about The Roommate is how boring it is.
Technically, or maybe legally, The Roommate is not a remake of Single White Female; neither the latter’s screenwriter (Don Roos) nor the writer of the novel he adapted (John Lutz) are credited. But clearly Sonny Mallh, the credited writer of The Roommate, was more than a little inspired by the older film. The only major difference is that The Roommate is about college students and dorm life in Los Angeles and not young professionals living in a loft apartment in New York City.
Fresh from Iowa and from breaking up with her high school boyfriend, Sara (Minka Kelly from Friday Night Lights in the Bridget Fonda role) is the first to move into her room. Shortly after, Rebecca (Meester) arrives, and within ten minutes, we know she is a little odd. She’s secretive, alludes to family problems, and she quickly becomes possessive and over-protective of Sara, making no secret of her dislike for anyone who wants to be friends with Sara. Rebecca brutally beats one girl who she thinks is a “bad influence.”
As Sara grows closer to her new boyfriend Stephen (Cam Gigandet, surprisingly and unfortunately not shirtless) and distances herself from an increasingly weird roommate, Rebecca starts taking more and more drastic measures to keep Sara close. In Single White Female, there’s a dead puppy, a gay neighbor, a colleague who sexually assaults Fonda and the death of Leigh’s sister at age nine.
In The Roommate, there’s a dead kitten, a lesbian friend, a teacher who sexually harasses Sara and the death of Sara’s sister at age nine. An Exacto knife replaces a screw driver. Rebecca wears Sara’s jaunty fedora as a disguise, just as Leigh cut her hair to look like Fonda. But that bowl haircut became iconic in the early 90s while the hat from The Roommate just feels like a prop.
Reading the above paragraph, it might sound like The Roommate is a smart update. But the problem is not the source material, it’s in the direction and the choices the director made in order to assure a PG-13 rating.
If your star is known from Gossip Girl, your viewers are going to be teenagers who don’t want to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. That means that the sex and violence that gave Single White Female its tension and shock can’t be shown in The Roommate. This is a problem when the plot of the film hinges on sex and violence.
You don’t have to be Alfred Hitchcock to thrill without blood and nudity. Disturbia, D.J. Caruso’s 2007 teen re-envisioning of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, was updated, suspenseful, thrilling and fun. But The Roommate’s director, Christian Christiansen, created no tension with either his camera work or with his actors, who, while not about to win any Oscars (or even Teen Choice Awards), have all been much better in other things.
Christiansen managed to get my heart racing only once, and it was with a shower scene. And I think I was just nostalgic for Psycho.
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