Friday, February 4, 2011

Obsessed and Confused

by James Hansen

Befuddlingly bland, The Roommate has a stock set up with plenty of room for crazy, but can’t even match the bizarre terror unleashed via the naming privileges of director Christian Christiansen’s parents. Perhaps trapped by its PG-13 rating (although it is consistently so cobbled together that placing blame is quite difficult), The Roommate never feels like horror movie, at least certainly not a scary one, and its attempts at psychological terror are equally ill-conceived and ineffective. The jumbled direction and screenwriting, punctuated by a distressing causal justification, leaves it terribly confused. Uniquely inept, The Roommate plays out as a completely different movie than the one pieced together before the viewer’s eyes.

Sara (Minka Kelly) is a college freshman moves onto campus at the University of Los Angeles without her boyfriend, Jason, who snubbed their deal to go to school together for a last minute spot at Brown. Eventually, she meets her roommate, Rebecca (Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester), who comes off as a bit strange – a trip to see Richard Prince’s Nurse Paintings doesn’t help – but mostly stays in her room and appears to be relatively kind. Rebecca starts cracking when Sara’s attention turns elsewhere: the friend down the hall, the suave fashion professor (Billy Zane!), the sexy boyfriend (Cam Gigandet aka that dude from The OC and Burlesque!). Rebecca can’t handle anyone getting between her and her obsession.

Sadly, The Roommate is miscast, poorly written, edited, and directed, or all of the above. Meester, as Blair Waldorf on Gossip Girl, has proven she can play a complex queen and evil bitch quite effectively, swinging from the world of backstabbing, artificial validation (and great clothes) to the world of a deeply effected, vulnerable, privileged teenager trying to figure out the world around her (while still wearing great clothes). Here, Meester’s nonchalant charisma and charm turn Rebecca into something more than the purely evil roommate. It is rather clear The Roommate wants nothing to do with these added dimensions, as Meester’s performance contradicts the dangerous tone proposed by many of the Christiansen’s horror-based directorial choices.

But what is calling for Rebecca’s straight up craziness? Christiansen’s direction pushes her in that way. The script, on the other hand, calls for Meester’s characterization through its building of a narrative beyond its standard set up. The contradiction, then, that we feel coming off the screen does not involve Meester, but rather the disconnect between the screenplay and its direction. Screenwriter Sonny Malhi provides us with a strange amount of exposition about Rebecca, complete with a Thanksgiving trip home to her supportive, concerned, upper class parents. Christiansen and Malhi construct this scene merely as a way to reveal a downplayed, explanatory plot point, yet it shows not only that Rebecca has two sides, but also poses a much larger problem.

The parent’s revelation pinpoints a fundamental shift in The Roommate’s schema, which goes unrecognized by Christiansen or Malhi. Malhi’s half-hearted, yet fully invested justification for the Rebecca’s unstable actions – she’s schizophrenic and/or bipolar and off her meds! – inadvertently turns this horror saga into a strangely sad one. [I would have included a major spoiler sign if it seemed like The Roommate actually cared about said “spoiler.”] Rebecca isn’t some crazed slasher, terrorizing the friends of her roommate out of sheer delight. (Truthfully, that would make for a better horror movie and seems to be the movie Christiansen & Malhi think they are making). Instead, she’s a mentally unstable girl with no friends whose problems potentially could have been offset by a helping hand and a trip to the guidance counselor. At least when Buffy wanted to kill her college roommate, she made sure it was a conspiratorial, soul-sucking demon first.


JeanRZEJ said...

Somehow your last paragraph ended up making it seem like a great film, rather than a bad one. Maybe if I saw it I'd understand. I will not.

I am glad that you dropped in The OC and Gossip Girl with authority, though. That takes some balls. The only piece of a Gossip Girl episode I can remember (having never seen more than small pieces), is when some guy says something about watching 'Krzysztof Kieslowski's La double vie de Véronique' - he even uses the French name! So completely unnecessary. That alone made me convinced that it is a show of the highest caliber, although I have never had the urge to verify this feeling.

This may be one of those times where you said all you needed to say in the first two words, but the bonus time is where all the action is. And by Action I mean Billy Zane. He's a cool dude.

James Hansen said...

Haha. It was not written in the order you see it now. It basically had one paragraph of ideas that got stretched to 600 words. But thank you.

And no, not a great film. Very, very bad. Gossip Girl is the bomb though. No guilt required!

JeanRZEJ said...

I used to make fun of my roommate because he was obsessed with The OC, yet all I could remember about it were multiple scenes of a girl with her head bent down crying with her hair perfectly tucked behind her ear on the side facing the camera. Who cries for camera in real life? I couldn't get over it. Then my brother made me watch it one time because he said it was funny and I thought it was hilarious and never noticed the hair with the crying thing. This all brings me to say: I don't want to believe you about Gossip Girl, but I'll believe you. But don't tell anyone I said so.

Anonymous said...

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