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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
February 2011

Single white femme fatale

'The Roommate' doesn't fail because it's a knock-off - it fails because every single thing about it is terrible

The Roommate
Screen Gems
Director: Christian E. Christiansen
Screenplay: Sonny Mallhi
Starring: Minka Kelly, Leighton Meester, Cam Gigandet, Alyson Michalka, Danneel Harris, Frances Fisher, Tomas Arana and Billy Zane
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 31 minutes
(out of four)

Any time you can pair two dreadfully untalented actresses together to make a college-themed ripoff of Single White Female, you've just gotta do it, right?

Right. And so Screen Gems has done just that with The Roommate, a movie so abysmally crafted and woefully acted that you almost feel sorry for those whose names will be associated with it. (Almost.)

Watching the film reminded me of my reaction to last year's alien-invasion flick Skyline. What I said about that movie was that it was almost unfair to judge it against any other theatrical feature, because it was so bad it really shouldn't have been a theatrical feature at all. It had "late night" and "made for cable" written all over it.

The same could be said for The Roommate. I suppose Screen Gems made the assumption that a movie like this would have an audience. And judging from the theatre in which I saw the film, I guess that was the right call. But even those audience members were aware of how terrible the film was. And we're talking about giggly sorority girls here - not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed.

The Roommate was directed by the hilariously named Christian E. Christiansen, whom I was shocked to discover was once nominated for an Oscar a few years back in the live-action short category. Even more shocking? I remember his particular short, At Night, and it was actually quite good. The fact that these two films have come from the same filmmaker is confusing my brain, because I thought even giving The Roommate a half-star was pretty charitable.

As I said, the movie is basically Single White Female for the college crowd. Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly) is a freshman at the University of Los Angeles. She's intelligent, attractive, warm, loyal and, of course, utterly without nuance or dimension. She's an aspiring fashion designer. She likes to go out with the girls and party, but doesn't like to drink too much. And she has just gotten over a difficult breakup.

Her roommate is Rebecca, and is played by Gossip Girl vet Leighton Meester. Rebecca is more shy than Sara. She likes to stay in and keep to herself. She's quiet and almost too friendly to Sara, while hostile to the other girls in the dorm. Oh, and she's probably pathologically insane.

It becomes clear pretty quickly that Rebecca has an unnatural attachment to her roommate. She gets jealous of her other friends - and boys, of course. She wants the two of them to be just like one another. She wants Sara all to herself. She'll do anything for her new best friend. And I mean anything.

What stands out most about The Roommate are the performances of the two leads. I mean, it is a rare event when you get to see a display of such incompetent acting. I expected it of Minka Kelly - I mean, she proved her lack of talent beyond a shadow of any doubt in Friday Night Lights. I was less familiar with Meester, but seeing her in this, it's hard to imagine a worse actress. To be fair to her, she has the more difficult role - she has to play crazy, while Kelly just has to play nice and docile and pretty.

But that's no excuse for the performance we get. Every facial expression, every spoken line is enough to induce laughter. Golden Raspberry Awards, are you paying attention? You better be.

Christiansen doesn't do her any favors with his shot selection - the close-ups are particularly egregious. And he seems blissfully unaware of how unintentionally funny his movie really is. He gives us no indication that he believes he's making anything but a legitimate psycho-thriller.

The least the film could have done was try to get Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bridget Fonda in cameo roles. At least tell us you're aware of your B-movie roots!

But alas . . .

You know a movie's bad when you keep pinpointing one scene transition halfway through the movie as the one thing that wasn't pure garbage. But that's the one thing I hang on to. So let me say it clearly: There's a cool scene transition about halfway through the movie. There. I gave credit where credit was due.

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