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Thursday, 15 March 2012

Burnt Popcorn Bits at the Bottom of the Box #1: THE ROOMMATE (2011)

*There may be plot spoilers in the bathtub below*

The Roommate stars Leighton Meester as Rebecca ('just call me Rebecca – and nowt else'), and Minka Kelly as Sara - two college roommates, as the dull title of this movie lets slip. It’s one of two plotlines. 1.They are roommates and 2.One of them is crazy. Leighton's character is an artist or something, and Minka's character is a frustrated fashion designer (aren't they all?) – or something. Bad Leighton and nice Minka (‘nice minka’ is not a compliment of the actress’s nudity by the way) meet, and play cat and mouse with each other the rest of the movie. Good cop, bad cop. Tom, Jerry. Burton, Taylor. Pat, Frank. Rebecca, Sara. It's like watching two strangers sitting in front of you fall out on a bus journey that lasts six hours. By the end of the journey you demand at least one horrible death or two. Instead, in this movie - everyone just sort of falls out the window. Kind of appropriate, thinking about it – like the movie shat the cast out as their 90 minutes of fame was up.

The film, one big casserole of recycled plotlines, is directed by Christian E Christiansen, an award winning Danish director whose career I'd like to keep an eye on, not literally, although while watching The Roommate, I did remove both eyes and put them in the spin cycle on my washing machine to liven up my evening. Because by all accounts, he's actually a pretty good director, who probably should have stayed clear of Hollywood. Oh, there's another directing credit on this movie for Richard Robertson, who has only directed one movie before. Maybe Christian walked back to Denmark mid-movie. Hell, didn't we all? Billy Zane is in this too. He plays a lecturer. A lecturer in fashion design. He he. I'll say that again – a lecturer in fashion design. Billy, uh, Zane. Yep, he doesn't do much except flirt a bit with nice Sara and then try to drop his pants for the seemingly sluttier bad Rebecca. I don't want to call Sara, Sara anymore - I'm calling her by the actress who plays her, Minka. I’ve been trying to do this all review. Minka is a much more original name. And anyway - nobody's acting, so why bother pretend you're someone else anyway? Let's just call a rock a rock, and a name a name. I'm even going to call Rebecca, Beccy. Ha - Beccy, take that! I'm also going to call this movie Bad Minka. That would be worth watching. I'm sorry if all this name mix-up confuses you, but it doesn't matter. Both actresses look almost identical and act the same anyway, so there's no need to assign names or get them right. Which is probably why Rebecca had to have an entire scene where she tells Sara's friends not to call her any of the shortened names they are thinking up, but to stick with Rebecca ok – right? There - we get it now. You are Rebecca even though you look like Sara who you are not supposed to look like yet, as later in the movie you dye your hair to look like her, even though, actually, you end up looking less like her than you did in the first place.

The Roommate did its job at the box office - but at what cost freedom? Films as derivative as this give derivation a bad name. Much of the movie is a rip-off of either Poison Ivy or Single White Female. I mean direct naughty boy exam crib rip-off, not just a little bit like those movies. In fact, the Poison Ivy sequels - all of them, are more fun than the whole of this movie. Well maybe not Poison Ivy 4: The New Society, but all the others.

The big dramatic twist in this movie comes when Rebecca proves she's a worthy psychopath by trying to copy how Sara looks (as I said, much like Rebecca does herself to be honest, but oh well), cue: dyeing of hair and - oh wow! It's Rebecca. I mean Sara. She then creeps to a local hotel to try and give Sara's ex-boyfriend a good time in the dark, before trying to kill him (hang on – this plotline sounds very familiar…), meanwhile Sara begins to see that Rebecca has issues that only her parents know about, and is more than just a wild child at school, she's a friggin' suicidal murderous bitch as well. Sound familiar again? Yep, it's the plots and the odd direct copycat scene from the far superior cute-girl-in-dungarees-but-still-a-psycho movies Single White Female and Poison Ivy (the original Poison Ivy with Drew Barrymore as well as Poison Ivy II, the one with naughty Lily the art student seducing her lecturer and painting nudes, I mean, posing for a painting in the nude) all joined messily together - a copulating mess of fondly-remembered plotlines that mostly ensures the movie goes nowhere and when it does go somewhere, ends up sliding down the road on horse dung.

Still, the movie is probably nearly ok as popcorn movie fodder, but it's the kind of popcorn that's burnt and scratchy and full of hard bits that crack your teeth if you bite too hard. To be fair, I thought Leighton Meester as bad Rebecca (remember - don't call her Beccy!) was pretty good in her role, seeing as it wasn't so much written for her as waved in her face in a threatening fashion. There was a certain amount of cruelty in her eyes to suggest this film could have been better. I also liked the part where she takes Sara back to meet her parents and while walking down the street she meets some old school friends at a café and acts like it's been ages since she last met up with one of the girls, her 'best friend', who listens to all this, then stands up and tells poor Rebecca (don't call her Beccy!) 'I was never your friend' or something equally cruel. Rebecca (don't call me - oh you get the point now..) clearly thinks this girl is her best friend though, as on her bedroom wall she has a giant painting of the bemused girl, who is, by the way, very pretty and a better actress than any of the leads - hey, this movie is increasingly screwed, unlike the cast, who barely get to snog.

Were there any other good bits? I'm thinking maybe not. The ending, with one of the girls hanging out the window was ok. And the shower room sequence was a bit sinister, but not really. And there were some really - I mean REALLY - stupid moments, especially when Sara is asked, matter-of-factly, by Rebecca's mother in the hallway: 'is she taking her medication?'. I mean - what kind of mum says something like that to her daughter's new best friend. Dumb mum. Dumb daughter. Dumb college lecturer, and really dumb boyfriend and ex-boyfriend. In fact, ex-boyfriend is so underdeveloped a character he becomes the sort of boy who talks to a strange girl on the phone who is pretending to be his ex-girlfriend and he doesn't even get suspicious. OK, new hairdo in the dark and you can get fooled by a sex act not being your girlfriend if you close your eyes, or pretend to close them, but another girl’s voice? That’s hard to fix. Everyone can do a decent Frank Spencer and Rigsby, but try mimicking your best friend’s voice and not even one of those people on a long distance phone call asking you if you’ve had an accident in the last 6 months will be fooled: ‘Err, no, My Palmer isn’t at home right now’/ ‘Ahh, Mr Palmer, very good to find you in this fine evening, now about your recent accident that I’m hoping you’ve had..’ – damn you, damn you all to Hell!

The Roommate wasn't a complete waste of time. It made me think how wonderfully sleazy and vicious that scene in Single White Female is where Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) creeps in to the hotel room where her landlady’s - Allie, played by Bridget Fonda - ex is staying following an argument between the two that she orchestrated, takes off her expensive-looking raincoat that she’s borrowed from Allie’s cupboard to reveal she is wearing nothing but a pair of red stilettos and a rather fetching red hairdo making her look the double of the woman she has developed an increasing obsession for. Hedy climbs onto the bed, works her way down, and performs a sex act on the unsuspecting man as if he’s a fast food milkshake with a faulty straw (he opens his eyes and sees just the hair, his best pally Allie’s-hair, down there, there on the stair, right there!). He thinks Ally has forgiven him, but then he realises it's not his fiancée but mad Hedy in the bed. Too late! In the words of a quizmaster on Mastermind; 'she's started so she'll finish' - the happy man delays pushing her away for just long enough to finish the thrill. Hedy, licking the corner of her mouth, finds another excuse for the use of a pointy stiletto and a cheating fiancee’s eye. I still miss Hedy. She didn't even come back for more in the long-delayed sequel to Single White Female, which was actually a worse movie than The Roommate. Hey – I knew there’d be a silver lining in this review somewhere. You know why The Roommate failed? It's the kind of movie that makes you want to watch all the films that it copied, like a bad cover version, makes you seek out the original. I reckon Bad Minka 5: The Face of Your Girlfriend’s Sister’s Mother is going to be even better than the original.
words: mark gordon palmer

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