FTP: Single White Female (1992)

MAY 15, 2019


Like any good horror/thriller fan, I saw Single White Female when it came out on video, and maybe once or twice more over the following months, but never again - I remember it being enjoyable but not the sort of movie I needed to watch over and over like Buffy and Lethal Weapon 3 (to use examples from that same summer of 1992). All I really remembered was that Bridget Fonda got a roommate who started mimicking her hairstyle, borrowing her clothes, even muscling in on her boyfriend, and that eventually things got deadly - which I could have surmised from the trailer if I watched it. But a friend of mine had recently referenced it a couple times in regards to a friend who was kind of doing the same thing Jennifer Jason Leigh does in the movie (albeit without the violence, thankfully - just the more harmless stuff), so I dug it out of the dreaded pile to give it my first look as an adult.

Well unlike some other childhood movies that I revisit, my memories weren't way off or anything - it is indeed a perfectly decent thriller that doesn't benefit from repeated viewings. At 107 minutes it's a bit drawn out, which doesn't help make a rewatch all that enticing, especially when you consider how unambitious it is. The New York setting is largely wasted; I'd estimate 75% of the film takes place in their apartment, with minimal and non-descript exceptions like the hair salon and Fonda's office. Fonda apparently only has one friend, a gay neighbor who lives in the apartment below, and despite being a gorgeous woman with an interesting job she apparently has no other romantic prospects beyond Steven Weber, the fiance who cheated on her (with his ex no less!) and forced her to take on the roommate in the first place. Honestly, the thing could be adapted for the stage with very few revisions.

And while Leigh's creepy "I'm gonna be just like her" moves are engaging to a degree, they're kind of deflated by Fonda's reluctance to do much about it, chalking it up to "I feel sorry for her" kinda stuff as opposed to being unsettled as she should be. If she doesn't feel threatened, why should we? Plus she takes Weber back instantly (before Leigh has even really done anything nutso), so you spend the movie thinking "If she took an extra couple days to put that 'roommate wanted' ad out she wouldn't have needed one anyway". That movie The Roommate was a big ol' ripoff of this one, but at least the college setting gave the sense of being truly stuck with someone like that. Why doesn't she just stay wherever Weber went after she kicked him out?

But Leigh's performance keeps it going; the stiletto kill still works like gangbusters, and in the #MeToo era the subplot about Fonda's sleazy boss (played by Stephen Tobolowsky!) probably works better now than it did in 1992, as both women get a chance to give him exactly what he deserved (Fonda hits him in the balls, Leigh kills him). And I couldn't remember how it ended exactly, so the finale gave me the requisite number of thrills, especially the great bit where Leigh thinks she's got Fonda trapped only to discover it's a ruse. Plus, a computer with networking capabilities plays a part - it's always fun to go back and see how things we take for granted like "sending out an email to silently report an intruder" used to be a massive undertaking that the person on the other end might not even fully understand.

Scream Factory's blu has a bunch of interviews and a commentary, but alas Fonda and Leigh are MIA (they got Weber though, who admits to getting aroused during a makeout scene with the former). The one with the writer is funny because he says he was inspired by seeing The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, which can't be correct as they shot the movie before that one was released (maybe it was Pacific Heights?) and also that he didn't really remember the book he was adapting, only using its major plot points and whatever else he recalled from his single reading. Good thing he wasn't hired to adapt Game of Thrones, I guess.

What say you?


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