By Jamie Steiner. The proverbial ‘single white female’ surely counts as one of modern cinema’s most exhausted clichés
By Jamie Steiner
The proverbial ‘single white female’ surely counts as one of
modern cinema’s most exhausted clichés; women gripped by a frenzy of jealousy,
obsession, repressed sexuality and untameable violent urges stretches all the
way back to the 1940s – at least – in melodramas such as Leave
Her To Heaven before
naturally culminating in the notorious embodiment of the genre, Single
White Female. Rather than challenge the limitations of its genre or
attempt a new approach, The Roommate prefers to play it safe, effectively
tracing over the characters of Single White Female and relocating them to a different
background. As an exercise in derivation, The Roommate excels where in every other capacity
it dramatically falls short.
In order to appeal to the high school demographic, the
action has been shifted to a college which is so bland and innocuous that it
could belong to any town or indeed any state. Equally as interchangeable as her
location is fashion student Sara (Minka Kelly), an
impossibly beautiful freshman who could easily be mistaken for Penelope Cruz
were it not for her lack of acting ability. Naturally, Sara is paired with Rebecca
(Leighton Meester), a certifiable grade-A mentalist who is immediately cause
for concern when she dreamily drawls, ‘I always wanted a little sister’.
Almost as soon as Rebecca has been introduced, The
Roommate lapses into
a Punch & Judy routine of ‘It’s behind you!’, albeit it without the
latter’s narrative tension. As crushingly obvious clues mount up, it becomes a
source of nagging irritation that even someone as ditzy and infuriatingly
stupid as Sara should remain blissfully unaware of the havoc being wrought by Rebecca
despite repeated warnings. Instead it requires a dead cat, a murdered
ex-boyfriend, a friend’s mutilation and an attempt on her own life to reach the
conclusion that something might be up. As a device for engaging the audience
and maintaining interest, it soon becomes tedious and wears itself out.
Worthy of mention, and therefore in the minority, is Billy
Zane’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek performance as a fashion professor prone to
quoting Yves Saint Laurent without a hint of irony and Alyson Michalka who,
despite being wasted here, is quickly becoming one of her generation’s most
recognisable and endearing performers.
The Roommate may have redeemed itself were it to
have included at least one original element or attempted to explore its
characters with greater relish. Instead, Sara’s relationship with Stephen (Cam Gigandent) is far
too two-dimensional despite the potential for conflict. For instance, could
more have been made of Stephen’s growing disillusionment with his art (his
band’s mediocrity causes him to quit temporarily) while Sara feverishly
embraces her interest in fashion and design? Or the curious inclusion of Sara’s
family friend Irene (Danneel Ackles), a lesbian who works her fingers to the
bone in the fashion industry?
Unfortunately, rather than creating a richer tapestry of
characters or probing their relationships, The Roommate suffers from its willingness to settle
for the average condemning it to being just another single white female story.