Single White Female – #2 in the US (Aug. 14 – 16)
All-Time Domestic & Worldwide $48,017,402
Single White Female remains the best “Roommate from Hell” film elevating a B- story with A+ acting from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bridget Fonda.
The unofficial “Blank From Hell” trilogy of ’92 Cinema Revue has closed. In January, this series began with the Nanny from Hell film The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. The second part came with the Cop From Hell film Unlawful Entry a few weeks back. Closing with Single White Female is perfect as it covers the final base to the Lifetime movie-style soup. Roommates from Hell movies are a dime a dozen, but this is one that stuck the landing that no other has come close to. Single White Female is the one that remains in the collective conscience thanks to the two strong leads.
Allison Jones (Bridget Fonda) dumps her fiancee Sam (Steven Weber) as he’s found cheating on her with his ex-wife. She seeks a roommate after a few days since getting her fashion software deal with Mitchell Myerson (Stephen Tobolowsky). She places an ad in the paper and gets several potential roommates before choosing Hedra Carlson, aka Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The two hit it off, but there seems to be something off with Hedy. From getting a pet without forewarning to getting the same haircut, Allison starts to dive deep and discover that Hedy is not the person she thinks she is. Maybe she’s someone else entirely.
Single White Female is some B- material elevated by A+ acting from the two leads. It is the expected plot with some unexpected manic twists setting the template for TV thrillers to come. Leigh is probably still recovering from carrying the entire film on her back decades later. Her performance is impressive by not being over-the-top in the role but having this calm tranquility. She plays Hedy as an actual person and not simply a caricature. A lesser actor would have done just that, but not Leigh. She’s very approachable and sweet, but when her secret is known, she dives into a careless persona that is cold and cunning. Both major kills seem second nature to her, even if one feels more like an accident. Those watching may feel like Allison with seeing her as trusting, yet if anyone knows the simple premise or even the trailer, knows Hedy can go batshit in 2.5 seconds.
Fonda plays Allison as a woman who is down on herself, trying to find some form of peace and move on. There’s a dynamic she has that shows that Allison is hurt by Sam’s cheating and seeks someone to help guide her. Allison sees Hedy as someone who can understand her plight and help her move on, so when things come to a head, she’s genuinely hurt and terrified by who Hedy has become. Just like with Sam, the person she cares about is not the person she thought they would be. But, she’s already dealt with the bad and can handle whatever comes next. She plays off of Leigh well and does have a triumphant moment toward the end that is rewarding.
However, the rest of the movie is not up to snuff with the talent on display. It follows the same paths that have become cliched and by the book these days. Hedy’s borderline personality syndrome is a tad mishandled. Yet, still, it is leagues better than how Ernie Hudson’s character in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle was (in fact, I’ll retroactively give that movie a 3 out of 5 here). Leigh does the best with what is given, and it’s excellent, as mentioned, but it probably would be better handled now. The kills she delivers are over-the-top if fun as hell to witness. Single White Female is a movie in which someone dies due to a stiletto heel in the eye, which is incredible. Her getting another through a pillow silencer style is stellar. Her killing a dog, though, can go straight to hell for all time.
The acts of sexual assault are hard to get through. Both actions are despicable, while one is treated as less than so. Mitchell tries to force himself on Allison, and she kicks him out of the way with a quick hit in the balls. It’s great to see Mitchell get his comeuppance because Tobolowsky plays him as a douchebag. Sam gets raped by Hedy as she pretends to be Allison giving him oral sex. Sam is horrified even when Hedy asks, “Then why did you let me finish if you knew? You wouldn’t have if you didn’t like it.” Yikes, yikes, yikes, that’s vile. It’s treated as if he liked it a bit to the end, but no, that is a man who stuck with it because he was worried about what she would do if he didn’t let it happen.
Despite Fonda’s excellent performance, her character still has an oblivious nature to her. She barely knows her and did not get the time to get to know her. They walk around naked as if they have known each other for years. She avoids certain red flags, with the haircut being the most obvious one that she is startled by but still doesn’t kick out. That scene as Hedy comes down the steps looking like Allison is iconic and yet to be replicated. The fact Allison still rode the ride of their roommate agreement after it astounds me. Luckily, the obliviousness fades toward the end.
A ridiculous thing about the film is the use of software and computer technology. I don’t believe anyone could contact the police or hack software for help via the internet in 1992, let alone order a pizza (you have to wait till ’95 for that). Also, Allison’s fashion software is Allison mainly typing keys and hits to have dresses and outfits pop up several times. It’s less intuitive than a flash dress-up game but considered cutting edge. It was laughable in ’92 to assume something like that would have broken the barrier. Then again, the writers must have been on to something, given fashion sites do have a tech similar to show how outfits would fit on someone.
Single White Female seeks to entertain with thrills of the typical 90s thriller but has cliches that would be seen as dated now. Leigh and Fonda make the film by making their characters feel natural despite the story bordering on farfetched. Yet, it remains one of the better “Blank from Hell” movies.
Revue Rating: 4 out of 5
Next time, Brandon Lee gets called into the action film ranks with Rapid Fire. We’re going blind on this one, so let’s see what we are getting into.