Single White Details, by Matt Warren
Going out to the movies can be a tiring and expensive ordeal, with zero guarantee of satisfaction. Personally, I usually don’t even bother trying to see something in theaters unless I’m about 99% sure I’ll enjoy it—a decision I make based on the talent involved with the film, plus whatever sort of internet buzz makes its way onto my radar. It’s a system that works more often than it doesn’t, but I do sometimes feel at a remove from the mass audiences whose dollars are, for better or worse, the drivers that dictate where my favorite art form is headed. This past week, I felt it was time to get out of my bubble. It was time for The Roommate.
It had been a long time since I had been to the theater to see anything that wasn’t what, as my old high school friend Aaron D. would say, “fag shit,” and I was excited to get outside my comfort zone and check out the new teenybopper co-occupancy thriller. And I wasn’t alone. Roommate won the weekend box office at $15 million. I asked myself: Self, is this really what the kids are watching these days? I had a moral imperative to know. So I trotted the steps up to the theater, eager to lower my bedraggled old man bones into the jacuzzi of youth culture, to ease my lumbar against the power jet of Leighton Meester and Minka Kelly’s CW-ized homage/rip-off of Single White Female.
It probably looked a little suspicious—an almost 30-year-old man buying a ticket to see The Roommate alone on a weekend afternoon, and I’m sure the situation wasn’t helped by my slovenly appearance, the overall creepiness of which was compounded by the bulky orthopedic sling I was wearing on my right arm from a ski injury. The ticket-takers no doubt flagged me as some sort of elite jack-off artist who keeps his Onanism apparatus on the shelf when not in use, the way David Duchovny’s hand model character in Zoolander kept his prized appendage in a sealed hyperbaric chamber to stave off decay. But let me assure the management of the Long Beach Cinemark that any masturbation that may have occurred in theater 11 during the 12:15 showing of The Roommate was completely unrelated to what was happening onscreen.
It’s difficult to pinpoint where exactly where the line between homage and rip-off begins and ends. In this way, The Roommate is reminiscent of another film: 2008’s Disturbia, starring Shia LaBeouf. In late 2008, a lawsuit was filed against Disturbia’s producers by the rights-holders of the Cornell Woolrich short story, “It Had to be Murder,” the original source material behind Rear Window. The plaintiffs argued that the D.J. Caruso-directed film was, in fact, a de facto remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic, and were thus owed royalties. The lawsuit was eventually [quick Google search: “Disturbia + lawsuit + LaBeouf + nipslips”] dismissed, but a very similar dynamic is at play between The Roommate and its spiritual forbearer, Single White Female. But if Disturbia is to Rear Window what, say, Oasis was to the Beatles, then The Roommate is to Single White Female what the Dirty Heads are to Sublime. And I say this as a proud member of a community for whom Bradley Nowell & Co. are perhaps our most important secular leaders. Point is, I liked Sublime for what they were, and I liked Single White Female in a similar way. It’s the perfect goofy late 80s/early 90s thriller to watch on TNT on a lazy Sunday afternoon while alphabetizing CDs. But just like how the shit-ska combo Dirty Heads are a shoddy copy of a copy of something that was only okay to begin with, The Roommate is a similar step down.
But c’mon, that’s no surprise. I mean, we’re all just here to be dicks, right? To look down our overeducated film snob noses at what tripe it is these shit-smelling plebes like to watch?
Yes! So let’s get to it. The best thing I can say about The Roommate is that at no point does anyone involved seem to be trying. At all. And, in a perverse way, this makes the film better. Nothing is being aspired to, and thus there’s no real failure. Actually, I was disappointed the movie wasn’t worse. I was really looking forward to going nuclear on this fucker, but I can’t, in good conscience, get too hyperbolic. The film isn’t so bad it’s good. It’s just so bad.
Roommate tells the story of college freshman Sara (Minka Kelly), a flawless—physically and otherwise—fashion design student at an unnamed L.A. university. Her dorm room’s second bed is conspicuously empty for a few days until the arrival of her new roomie Rebecca (Leighton Meester), an intense, introverted would-be painter. Despite Rebecca’s awkwardness, the two girls fast become BFFs. But gradually we begin to realize that Sara’s new roommate is—wait for it—batshit, bananacakes crazy. Rebecca is totally obsessed with Kelly’s character, even beginning to dress and act like her, including getting the name of Sara’s dead sister tattooed across her tit. And Rebecca is willing to do whatever it takes to eliminate anything she perceives as a threat to her new friendship. Cue lots of Rebecca looking on ominously as Sara interacts with other characters, which include Billy Zane’s lecherous fashion design professor, and Cam Gigadent as Sara’s new boyfriend, Steven.
It seems to take Sara for-fucking-ever to realize there’s something wrong with her new roommate, but on this point I’m inclined to give the character the benefit of the doubt. After all, Sara isn’t privy to as many scenes of Rebecca lurking and stalking and stalking and lurking as we are. Also, Rebecca’s reign of terror is surprisingly benign. Most of her actions would barely warrant the attention of an RA, much less the police.
Late in the film, Sara learns (with the help of Wikipedia) that Rebecca is, like, totally schizophrenic or bipolar or whatever. I dunno. Sensitivity toward mental illness is not The Roommate’s strong suit. The film has about as much sympathy for Rebecca’s condition as the Egyptian protesters do for President Mubarak (topical!). At this point the middle-aged African American woman sitting behind me summed things up nicely by saying, loudly, “oooohh… she dangerous!” And yes, that actually happened.
Anyhoo, Sara moves out, and Rebecca goes full-on Glenn Close-in-Fatal Attraction, and there are finally some casualties. And so on and so on, with the whole thing ending in a Meester/Kelly catfight that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Bud Light commercial. Spoilers.
As you can guess, the weakest part of The Roommate is the screenplay. The characters are paper-thin, and the plot is formulaic to the point of madness.
Meester gives the film’s best performance, mostly as a function of her character having more than one emotion to play. Kelly’s performance is neither here nor there. Billy Zane is bald. And then there’s Gigadent, who really stinks up the joint as Sara’s shit-eating oaf of a love interest. Gigz spends the whole movie engaged in a mighty struggle against the craft of acting, and eventually emerges triumphant. His performance can best be summarized as follows: smirk squint smirk squint smirk squint smirk smirk smirk squint squint squint smirk squint smirk squint smirk squint smirk. So very punchable.
Though credited to goy-sounding Dane Christian E. Christiansen, The Roommate in fact appears to be directed by Filmbot-3000, set to full establishing-shot-master-shot-shot-reverse-shot mode. But Christiansen does do his homeland proud by throwing in a few Dutch angles to break up the monotony. Is Holland the same thing as the Netherlands? Why does it have two different names? And did you read that thing in GQ a few months back about how the Netherlands’ marijuana laws are actually a lot more fucked up than ours are? Interesting stuff. Anyway, the guy who directed this is Danish.
So. When all was said and done, did I enjoy my time with The Roommate? No, not really. I’m one of those guys who’s usually made apoplectic by the bad behavior of other moviegoers, but even I was driven to spend half this film hunched over my smartphone, desperately searching for ways to entertain myself. Maybe the problem with going out to the movies isn’t that audiences are rude and inattentive due to some kind of systemic downward-trending erosion of our basic moral fiber. Maybe the problem is these movies suck.