Home Video Hovel: Single White Female, by David Bax
Any time I see the word “feminist” applied to Barbet Schroeder’s 1992 Single White Female (now out on Blu-ray from Shout!), I cringe a little. It’s not just the surface-level problematic-ness of it–how crazy is it that people used to include their ethnicity in personals like that?–but the deeper assumptions the movie makes about womanhood. On the one hand, I can see that there are elements that could be interpreted as feminist. Businesswoman Allie (Bridget Fonda) has interactions with a rapist creepo client (Stephen Tobolowsky) that are disquietingly relevant post-#MeToo. And there’s something powerful, if humorous, when Allie, tied to a chair by her roommate/enemy, Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), seems to draw strength from the fierce lioness on the television nature documentary she’s forced to watch. But, most of the time, Single White Female recycles tired stereotypes about women in competition with one another (before Hedy, Allie had an acrimonious split with her female business partner) and then, finally, appears to attribute Allie’s ability to overcome Hedy to her lack of femininity (“I’ve never met anyone so scared of being a woman,” Hedy taunts her). It’s just another in a long line of stories that interpret feminism through a male lens; the more like any other badass, male movie hero Allie becomes, the more empowered she is.
Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you probably know the plot via years of cultural references. After breaking things off with her philandering fiancé (Steven Weber), Allie places an ad looking for a roommate. She decides on shy Hedy and their budding friendship soon takes a turn for the unsettling when Hedy becomes a little too fixated on being just like Allie, down to famously adopting her hair style and color and using her name when talking to men at bars. Despite two great central performances, Single White Female soon devolves into hoary thriller cliches. For instance, why, other than to drum up bullshit tension, would Allie choose to go through Hedy’s things for clues while Hedy’s in the shower instead of just waiting until she goes out?
These shopworn fixtures are especially glaring amidst Schroeder’s self-serious pretentiousness. Single White Female‘s cool color palette and hushed tones are the hallmark of faux-prestigious Hollywood dramas. Such drabness still infects middlebrow pap to this day.
As a result, Single White Female is often overly subdued for a nominal thriller. Even when Allie is tied to that chair and Hedy is setting things on fire, the movie barely rises above a whisper. I mean, if you’re going to make the kind of movie where someone gets killed by being stabbed in the eye with a stiletto, just make the kind of movie where someone gets killed by being stabbed in the eye with a stiletto already.
Sourcing information is not available for Shout!’s transfer but the film looks good on Blu-ray, especially in cinematographer Luciano Tovoli’s use of tempered, urban sunlight streaming through the windows of Allie and Hedy’s late nineteenth century Upper West Side apartment building. The stereo soundtrack is exceptionally clear; wouldn’t it have to be with everyone talking so quietly all the time?
If you’re a fan of Single White Female, the special features are the reason to purchase this disc. All of them are brand new, including a commentary with Schroeder, editor Lee Percy and producer Susan Hoffman; an interview with Schroeder; an interview with Weber; an interview with costar Peter Friedman; and an interview with screenwriter Don Roos.