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Monday
Feb072011

The Roommate (2011)

Run, White Bitch, Run!

Let’s get something out of the way:  The fact that The Roommate is an unofficial update of Single White Female has nothing to do with its quality or whether or not you should see it.  There are plenty of reasons to avoid the film, but this SWF remake hysteria is not one of them.  People act as if director Christian E. Christiansen and screenwriter Sonny Mallhi should be locked away for stealing the plot of a nineteen-year-old movie.  This premise is false for three reasons:

1.  The Roommate’s target audience wasn’t born when Single White Female came out; nor would they likely grasp the concept of looking up anything in a newspaper; thus the idea that this is some kind of back-door brand recognition is ridiculous.

2.  The people complaining about this film being a remake aren’t going to see it anyway.

3.  If intra-genre rehashing of stories, characters and scenes is a crime, then Nora Ephron, Ashton Kutcher, and Cameron Diaz should be shackled and banned from ever making movies again.

Is that settled?

Okay, good.  Let’s talk about The Roommate.

Scratch that.  I can’t begin without explaining the environment in which I saw it.  Last Saturday, at 7:50pm, I was the oldest attendee at Old Orchard Mall’s Theatre Seven by at least fifteen years.  The place was packed with teenagers, many of whom showed up in weird clusters that looked to represent pre-sleepover factions or gang bangers locked out of their cribs.  The atmosphere was so loud, so rambunctious and participatory, that I felt like I’d wandered into the theatre scene from Gremlins—minus the satisfying conclusion.

Because Theatre Seven doesn’t have stadium seating, I watched much of The Roommate with a shaved-dome silhouette obscuring the lower-right sixteenth of the screen.  The kid in front of me paid $9.50 to sit in a movie theatre with his head down, looking at his glowing cell phone for ninety minutes; he only looked up when he heard a scream, at which point he yelled things like, “Aw, hell naw!” and “Run, white bitch, run!”

This was a much uglier crowd than the fine folks I saw The Rite with last week, but I hunkered down and learned to enjoy the kicked-over buckets of popcorn and heartwarming spectacle of a four-year-old girl being escorted by her parents after the credits.  I was also proud to have helped make The Roommate the number one movie in America.

You may think you’ve got the film pegged by the synopsis: Sara (Minka Kelly), a freshman and Los Angeles University, gets paired with a psychotic lesbian roommate named Rebecca (Leighton Meester) whose possessiveness drives her to attack Sara’s friends and eventually try to kill her.  If you’ve seen Single White Female, or a few key episodes of any teen soap in the last twenty-five years, you know exactly what’s going to happen.  Because The Roommate is rated PG-13, you’ll be teased with nudity and violence, but the only casualty will be poor, misunderstood, under-medicated Rebecca.

That’s not what makes this film worth seeing.  I’m qualifying my recommendation by addressing only fans of The CW television network.  As I said before, if you’re not in The Roommate’s mental or physical demographic, chances are you’ll skip it anyway (chances are, you’re not even reading this).  But if you never miss Gossip Girl, 90210 or One Tree Hill, you’ll get a kick out of this movie.

Mostly that’s because The Roommate is a tame-horror mash-up of all that network’s shows.  Seriously, there’s at least one star from the aforementioned, as well as The Vampire Diaries and Hellcats; the opening ten minutes are like a bubblegum version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

But this isn’t just a case of cynical stunt-casting.  Leighton Meester is a revelation as Rebecca.  Her Blair Waldorf character on Gossip Girl is an empowered, manipulative socialite who loves high fashion and ruining people.  Here, the actress dials it back several degrees, disappearing into a meek and troubled performance.  She turns on the neediness and crazy eyes a bit too soon for my taste, but that’s what makes the story so fantastic.

You see, Sara is really, really dumb.  And so are her new campus girlfriends and hunky drummer boyfriend, Stephen (Cam Gigandet).  Apparently, no one in the film has seen a movie of this kind, and so don’t think to ask for a room transfer or ask questions when the creepy girl begins throwing evil, protective looks everywhere and, um, laundering kittens.  If anyone in The Roommate had acted like an adult, the movie would’ve been a short film—maybe even a public service announcement.

Speaking of adults, it wasn’t until I got home and checked IMDB that I realized why Kelly seemed so strange to me.  What I’d written off as a poor makeup job turned out to be a case of a thirty-year-old playing eighteen.  This is nothing new, of course, and she fits perfectly with late-twenties Gigandet, whose face is so constantly scrunched up in a smiling “I-feel-ya-babe” sympathy-squint that he looks like a botched Reagan wax dummy.

Despite the distracting cast, The Roommate has a few semi-effective horror moments; as when Tracy (Alyson Michalka) is stalked in the dorm showers.  It’s a shameless rip-off of a similar moment from the original Friday the 13th, but the director draws it out just enough to provide a satisfactory jump when Rebecca lunges into frame (though I’ll offer this tip to aspiring filmmakers: if you’re going to establish that a character has a belly button ring so that you can rip it out later, establish it before the scene in which it’s ripped out; Christiansen might as well have used a CG arrow with “Foreshadowing” stenciled on it when the piercing is introduced ).

I also appreciated the screwball guns-and-blunt-objects climax, which surprised me with its crazy violence and slightly dizzying dangling-from-a-window moments.  I probably would’ve enjoyed these scenes more had there not been running commentary from the audience about how much one or both of those “bitches” was gonna get “fucked/jacked” up.

I can’t defend The Roommate on any level, outside of CW fandom, or the hope that some teen will be interested enough in horror that this movie will act as a gateway to better scare fests.  I found it to be funny and dumb, but not boring (how can any film where “And Billy Zane” appears on screen be boring?).  If you love awkward moviegoing experiences, check it out before I Am Number Four, Gnomeo & Juliet, Just Go With It or whatever inane garbage coming out Friday usurps this magical moment in time—where a gaggle of studio executives sits crowded around a conference room table, blowing on the fresh ink of Christian E. Christiansen’s sterling sequel contract.

God bless The Roommate.

God bless America.

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