THE ROOMMATE (15): On General Release Friday 8th April
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 might have marginally 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 thus allowing Rebecca to exploit her own ‘passion’ for drawing to drive an even deeper wedge between them? 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, and a sub-par one at that.