Monday, September 21, 2015

Single White Female (1992)

We've all had bad roommates. It's a part of growing up in the modern world – trying to find a place to live, coming up short on cash and having to move in with some psychopath who starts to imitate your every move.

Wait, what?

Director: Barbet Schroeder
Starring: Bridget Fonda, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Co-written with Michelle.

Yes, this is one of those 1990s films which has since become a sort of punchline - “don't go Single White Female on me,” cries many a half-joking roommate, crossing their fingers and hoping they don't end up on the front page of the newspaper as the victim in a crime story. But back in 1992, it was just a movie. A weird, weird fucking movie.

The film begins with a woman named Allison (Bridget Fonda), in bed with her husband when her husband's ex-wife conveniently calls and leaves a message saying the two slept together. Wow. That's awfully contrived that she called RIGHT FUCKING NOW, like some silly stage play, isn't it? The husband feebly tries to save face, but really, it's all over. There is nothing to do anymore, and the relationship is dead in the water. Now, it's just time for crying alone on a bed:

"This is even worse than the time I was in Lake Placid!"

She goes through a bunch of potential roommates, most of whom are a little bit weird and say bizarre things, so they're all obviously terrible and not even worth considering. Like this girl:

Yes, it looks hopeless. Who will she ever find as a roommate? Who will spare her from these awful cretins who deserve to die?

But all is not lost – eventually, as she's sitting there crying in the kitchen, a random girl walks in without being invited, which doesn't raise any alarm bells for some reason. The girl, introducing herself as Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), offers to make her tea, but when they try to turn on the sink, it showers them with water.

I wonder how they'll bond when the toilet gets clogged.

Let's recap that: She was crying in the corner, Hedy broke in without even knocking or anything, and the sink exploded on them. Seems like a match made in heaven to me!

So they're pretty much instant BFFs, trying on clothes together and they even get a dog, which they take pictures with and even sleep in the same bed with. It's all pretty candy coated.

I can feel my teeth rotting just watching these scenes!

And hell, Allison even promises Hedy that she'll never get back together with her old husband. Weeeeeellllllllll....

She's basically a big liar!

Yup, they get back together almost instantly, without any scenes of them talking or anything. I guess that's a blessing though, as the film is already close to two fucking hours long. Which honestly begs the question – why did they break up at all? Why not just make a film about a younger couple who weren't living together and the girl got a new roommate? Why have the breakup/marriage plot at all? I guess they really needed the extra 10 minutes tacked onto this already overlong film.

Anyway, Hedra doesn't take their getting back together well – there are even a couple of scenes where she sits around eating and watching TV! The horror!

You would think after The Hitcher, she would be able to take this a little bit better. But I guess not.

At least she has the dog, though – oh, wait, no she doesn't. The dog starts ignoring her too.

I guess the dog is just able to tell which person it should pay attention to because the movie's plot needs to move forward.

Which doesn't make any sense, because Hedy's the one who has been actually paying attention to and feeding the dog! Allison has mostly been ignoring it or not there. But in this movie's world, it wants Allison only, even though she never seems to do anything with it, over Hedy who does everything for it and is always there. But Hedy doesn't take THIS injustice lying down... she retaliates by throwing the dog out a window.

Ha! Take THAT, you dumb dog!!!

If seeing a dog die makes you uncomfortable, just pretend the dog was an advocate for the anti-vaccine movement.

My favorite part of this is how Allison believes the bullshit story Hedy feeds her - the dog jumped out of the window of its own volition. Like yeah, that's something a dog would just do at random, because dogs have no sense or intelligence at all and are just helpless dumb animals who commit suicide at any given moment. Does this movie understand dogs at all? Well, a better question would be, does the movie understand anything? I don't think it really does.

Things get even stranger, though, when Hedy gets a makeover and dyes her hair to look exactly like Allison. This is all extremely weird, but does Allison take any action about it beyond being a little annoyed? Nope! It's just kinda weird, is all. I dunno, if my best friend showed up wearing the same clothes as me with the same hairstyle, I'd stop being friends with them.

I guess Allison does start to get worried about her though, after she finds a box under Hedy's bed containing a bunch of letters and stuff that prove she was lying about her past. Allison confides in her best friend, a gay guy upstairs, who tells her they should definitely call a therapist and get her institutionalized. That seems like the obvious thing to do, but then, I live in real life, and not a strange fantasy land like these characters.

But Hedy takes care of him well enough, so whatever, you know?

If a scene where Hedy sleeps with Allison's husband while pretending to be her sounds like a fucking Dr. Phil episode, well, I wouldn't blame you for thinking so. But I'll give the movie one concession – most Dr. Phil episodes don't end with the woman killing the man with a high heel to the head. Though, that would give me more incentive to watch fucking Dr. Phil.

Not all deaths are equal. Some deaths are cool, like dying valiantly saving a friend from an assassin's bullet. Other deaths are not cool, and this is one of those.

So Allison finds out Hedy killed her husband, and that immediately flips Hedy's evil switch. Like, boom, it's fucking instant – she's suddenly just Saturday-morning-cartoon-character evil. Now, she holds Allison hostage at gunpoint, forcing her to buy plane tickets so they can escape. Hedy leaves for a while and Allison, tied to a chair, tries to escape by turning up the volume on the TV to try and get someone's attention to come save her. Which is exactly the way my father survived his own kidnapping in 1993, so I have an emotional attachment to this scene.

Hedy gets back and is about to finally kill Allison, when Allison decides to kiss her on the mouth, which stops Hedy from doing anything. The least they could have done at this point was add in some hot lesbian action, but no, all they do is kiss and then she rests her head on Allison's lap.

This is just her favorite kind of foreplay.

Well, that's one way to stop from getting killed. Though I doubt it would work in every, a fucking Mafia hitman probably wouldn't be swayed by that.

So let's run down a checklist of what this movie considers mentally ill people to be: they're super clingy and can turn into serial killers at the drop of a hat for almost no reason. Just remember, people with mental health problems: this could be you! Make sure to feel completely ashamed and feel awful about yourself. This movie's got you figured out.

Oh, and the gay best friend guy survived. How? Did he just hide out in his house pretending to be dead for several days? Why not go to the cops and tell them what's happening? Maybe he's just attracted to the fucking danger of all of it. He does give it his best shot at beating Hedy up, but he can't even do that right, as this isn't the real climax!

You get a B minus for effort though.

The real climax involves Allison escaping and running around in the basement air vents like a fucking Die Hard action scene – I'll give the movie a few points for that, as I honestly didn't think THAT would be in the movie. But mostly that's because it's a complete non-sequitur with where the movie was going.

She's like the John McClane of privileged white girls in NYC.

Eventually, though, all things must come to an end, via a stab in the back:

Et tu, roommate I kidnapped?

What did we learn from this movie? Mental health problems means you're crazy and have always been crazy. There's no hope for you, and you'll probably die by being stabbed in the back.

Seriously, this is a pretty silly flick. It's not that good, with little character or story development – it's all strictly shallow and surface-level stuff, existing only as an excuse for the cheap thrills. To be fair though, the thrills can be kinda fun in a dumb way, and the movie was never outright bad. Jennifer Jason Leigh's acting is actually really good, and the other actors aren't bad either.

Talking about it afterwards, Michelle and I both concluded that this was a product of its time, a relic that seems dated now, but also kind of innocent in a way. Like, they didn't know any better. This was made in a time when the world didn't have the Internet giving everyone a voice, including people with mental health problems who would have said 'hey, this is insensitive as fuck.' The people making the movie were living in a much simpler world, without the societal context to know what they were doing was inaccurate and silly. They just wanted to make a scary, fun movie.

It really is interesting in that way, to watch Single White Female in the context of today's super aware world. Social media did a wonderful thing by allowing minority voices to come out and express their feelings and make the complexities of life more visible – that way, they're not as confusing, and the average person can understand the plight of the mentally ill better now without, you know, having to go to school and learn that shit in books and stuff.

But hey, at least we make great and insightful movies now, that only show mental illness in realistic ways!

... On second thought, I'll show myself out.

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