Movie Review: The Roommate
By Matthew Huntley
February 26, 2011
The Roommate is to Single White Female as Disturbia is to Rear Window. In other words, it’s a watered down rip-off of a better movie that’s more or less pointless. The comparison to Single White Female is an obvious one, yes, but it steals so much from that film it almost seems deliberate. Did the filmmakers think enough time had passed that no one would notice? Or maybe they figured the intended audience for The Roommate is too young and naïve to think it could be so unoriginal. The latter explanation seems more fitting since this is one movie that fails to give the audience any credit.
If you happened to see Single White Female, then there’s absolutely no reason to The Roommate. The resemblance is laughable, right down to the psychotic villain offing a cute animal and the heroine’s ex-boyfriend. But even if you haven’t seen it, don’t bother with this cheap knock-off—it’s about as routine as thrillers get.
Sara (Minka Kelly) is a college freshman at the University of Los Angeles. She comes all the way from Des Moines, Iowa, so maybe it’s reasonable to think she’d trust her all-too-obviously disturbed roommate, Rebecca (Leighton Meester), who suffers from either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or perhaps both (when Sara discovers Rebecca is taking Zyprexa, she quickly searches Wikipedia to see what it’s used for. Isn’t Wikipedia handy?).
Just as we expect, Rebecca quickly goes from quiet and protective to scary and creepy when she becomes unhealthily obsessed with Sara. She starts to wear Sara’s dead sister’s jewelry; she spies on her from across campus; she threatens other potential friends in the shower; and she hurts herself in gruesome ways just to get attention.
Of course, we expect her to do this. Why? Because this is a thriller about a deranged roommate, and that’s exactly how deranged roommates in thrillers behave. It’d be silly to think the screenplay would go so far as to offer insight into Rebecca’s mental disorders or take narrative directions that go beyond standard thriller clichés. The climax is like all others of this type: the characters wrestle; attempt to shoot each other; and hang on for dear life as they hang outside windows. The screenplay for The Roommate comes right off the assembly line and has no original thought or vision in it to make it interesting.
What bothers me most about this movie is it shows no sympathy or deeper explanation for Rebecca’s behavior. It simply sees her as a villain who must be stopped. Even Rebecca’s parents (Frances Fisher and Tomas Arana) don’t seem to care about her. Rather than develop and analyze her psychosis, the movie rushes to more would-be squeamish scenes.
Even if there’s no hope for The Roommate to be anything more than a cheap thriller, why not pull out all the stops and make it a hard R, complete with nudity and gore? Some of the scenes certainly suggest this is possible. Why tease us with shots that are all above the waist and chest? Why not show us a little blood? If the story and characters can’t affect us, at least let the visuals have a crack at it.