Sunday, 8 January 2012

Single White Female (1992)

Psychopaths, how can you avoid them? Because, according to Hollywood, they're absolutely everywhere and you need to be careful and vigilant at all times. Don't have a fling (Fatal Attraction), don't take in tenants (Pacific Heights), don't become the object of affection for any young girl (The Crush), don't hire a temp (The Temp), don't visit any dentists who are having severe emotional problems (The Dentist & The Dentist 2), don't go white water rafting (The River Wild), don't pick up any hitch-hikers (The Hitcher), don't ever go to summer camp (almost every teen slasher movie ever), don't fall for a charming landlord (The Resident), don't let anyone put you at ease and begin singing the praises of Huey Lewis & The News (American Psycho) and don't, under any circumstances, spend a night at the Bates Motel. Of course, there are many other places to find psychos but I think that provides a decent cross-section of the main pitfalls to look out for. Oh, and if you were thinking of advertising for a flatmate then Single White Female advises you not to do that either.

Based on the novel, "SWF Seeks Same", by John Lutz, Single White Female is a glossy, Hollywood thriller that stays very entertaining and enjoyable for about 3/4 of its runtime. Sadly, like many movies from this particular subgenre, it starts to fall apart under the strain of numerous silly choices made and a number of characters being far too slow on the uptake.

Bridget Fonda plays Allison Jones, a decent young woman trying to make it on her own in the big city. Well, she was actually trying to make it with the support of her boyfriend (Sam, played by Steven Weber) but it turns out that he's actually not been entirely truthful with her. Upset and angry, Allison considers giving up and moving back home but instead makes the decision to carry on and to get herself a flatmate. She lives in a great, rent-controlled, apartment so the flatmate wouldn't be on the lease and would have to not really introduce herself to everyone as a tenant of the building. This suits Hedra Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a quiet and pleasant girl who makes a great impression on Allison. It's only as more and more time passes that Allison realises something isn't quite right about Hedra. Things seem to escalate as Allison and Sam reconcile - Hedra often becomes snappy and also starts to feel more like an overbearing intruder rather than a friendly flatmate. And it also becomes obvious that she is trying to emulate Allison in her appearance and wardrobe choices. Is she a shy young woman looking to style herself upon someone she admires or is she getting obsessive?

There's a decent enough screenplay by Don Roos and solid direction by Barbet Schroeder but I'd have to say that Single White Female is a movie made into something very entertaining by the cast members. Both Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh are great in the lead roles, able to show vulnerability when required and also steely resolve. Steven Weber is just fine as Sam, Peter Friedman is enjoyable as the upstairs neighbour who gets on well with Allison and Stephen Tobolowsky is fantastic as the sleazy Mitch Myerson, a man who hires Allison for her computing skills but assumes that he has the upper hand in their working relationship.

By the time the movie starts to get bogged down by the number of thriller cliches and poorer moments it doesn't really matter so much because you've gone along with the leads and been rewarded with some surprising nastiness, a fun build-up and an enjoyably warped sexual frisson weaving throughout the developing plot.


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