Synopsis: A woman advertising for a new roommate finds that something very strange is going on with the tenant who decides to move in
Stars: Bridget Fonda, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Steven Weber, Peter Friedman, Stephen Tobolowsky
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Running Length: 107 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Ahhhh! It’s movies like Single White Female that make me pine for a revival of the early ‘90s psycho thrillers! It seemed that two decades ago not a week would go by without the release of another movie about a crazed boyfriend/girlfriend/co-worker/stranger terrorizing some poor unfortunate soul. Giving birth to an endless trail of sleaze films (and sequels!) these potboilers were slickly produced and often featured top notch actors and directors pushing themselves out of their comfortable blockbuster zone. Most of these movies are forgotten now, deemed cliché relics of a more exploitative time. Every so often, though, a film like Single White Female earns its place at the top of the heap.
Adapted by Don Roos from the novel SWF Seeks Same by John Lutz and efficiently directed by Barbet Schroeder (coming off of an Oscar nomination for directing Reversal of Fortune in 1990), the movie dives headfirst into its tale of software designer Allison Jones (Bridget Fonda) who winds up with the roommate from hell. Needing the extra money to make the rent in her spacious New York loft (the place would rent now for thousands of dollars a month) and having recently broken up with her philandering boyfriend Sam (Steven Weber), she posts an ad that attracts a variety of eccentrics. Arriving at a time when Allison is emotionally fragile, mousy waif Hedra Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight) quickly earns her trust and the keys to the apartment.
At first Hedy and Allie get along swimmingly, but when Sam re-enters the picture Hedy feels like she’s losing her best friend and living situation and she’ll do practically anything to stay where she is. Next thing you know, Hedy cuts and dyes her hair to match Allie and starts wearing her clothes and that’s when the real weirdness begins…along with the murders.
The film has some interesting blunt obstacles to overcome, not the least of which is Hedy’s inherent oddball-ness from the get-go. She preys on Allie’s need for companionship, a need that blinds her to the danger Hedy poses to far more than her security deposit. Leigh brings some extraordinary depth to the role and moves the character from being not just a lunatic but a deeply wounded soul that lashes out when her happiness is threatened. It’s a layered performance that matches well with Fonda’s sharp edged Allie. Allie isn’t the sweetest soul either and there’s a little bit of a popular high school cheerleader rooming with the poor misfit outcast vibe to it all. Makes me miss Fonda’s presence in Hollywood where she’s been sadly absent since 2002.
The film isn’t perfect, failing to explain any of the life that happens outside the walls of the apartment and not doing much in the way of etching out the male roles like Stephen Tobolowsky’s lecherous client of Allie’s and Peter Friedman (Side Effects) as an upstairs neighbor. Feeling like a play at times, the concentrated claustrophobia of the historic building (beautifully filmed by Luciano Tovoli who did wonders with Suspiria) can be a bit suffocating at times but works in the films favor when it approaches its cat and mouse chase climax.
Aside from some guffaw inducing computer software graphics, Single White Female plays quite well in this age of advanced communication and connection. It’s always a risk to live with a roommate you don’t know…but at least know you can Facebook stalk them or pull up their criminal history with the touch of a button. Back in 1992, you had to go with your gut and in 2016 my gut still tells me to watch this thriller every few years.