The Roommate is essentially a college-age, low-rent retread of of the 1992 thriller Single White Female – the story of a young woman whose life is interrupted by a possessive, deranged individual. But even if Single White Female had never been made, this version would still be about as boring and predictable as they get. It’s little more than a visual checklist of thriller clichés. Not those fun, stylistic clichés, but the dull and dreary ones, all of which were unoriginal twenty years ago and have long since overstayed their welcome. If you can’t figure out where the plot will go as you watch it unfold, you’re either lucky, for you’ve missed all the thrillers I’ve sat through, or you’re remarkably imperceptive. I’ll take it as an item of faith that it’s the former. I beg you, don’t prove me wrong.
In the film, a girl from Iowa named Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly) enters her freshman year at the University of Los Angeles, where she hopes to study fashion design. Assigned to share her dorm room is Rebecca Woods (Leighton Meester), born and raised in the affluence of Beverly Hills. At first, they get along swimmingly. But over time, Rebecca’s behavior becomes increasingly odd, as if she wanted Sara all to herself. Mostly, it displays itself not through her interactions with Sara, but through her interactions with other people in Sara’s life. These include her new boyfriend, Stephen (Cam Gigandet), her friend, Tracy (Alyson Michalka), her fashion mentor, Irene (Danneel Harris), and Professor Roberts (Billy Zane), who teaches design. At Thanksgiving, Rebecca takes Sara to meet her wealthy parents; the mom (Frances Fisher) will eventually ask Sara in private the obvious question, “Is she taking her medication?”
Most of the characters are so transparent that they might as well walk around with labels hanging around their necks. I’ll refrain from the two leads, since I’ve pretty much described them already. But you’d enjoy reading the one for Professor Roberts; his expressions and sly glances at Sara would equate to, “I’m the lecherous creep who can’t keep it in his pants.” Tracy’s would read, “I’m the unreliable party girl,” while Irene’s would read, “I’m the clueless lesbian.” As for Stephen, the frat house drummer boy, his would read, “I’m the only decent guy on campus who will love Sara for who she really is and not see her as just a piece of tail.” There isn’t much more I can say about the character, but regarding Gigandet, he should thank his lucky stars that, at age twenty-eight, he looks young enough to pass for a college student.
As Rebecca systematically takes care of anyone who gets between her and Sara, two plot points are introduced, neither of which is developed beyond its purpose as a thriller contrivance. The first is Sara’s ex-boyfriend (Matt Lanter), who repeated calls and is eventually teased by Rebecca when she suddenly has access to Sara’s cell phone. The second is the sudden appearance of a kitten, who Sara dubs Cuddles. Only one thing can happen when a cute, innocent animal has a guest spot in a movie like this. If you don’t know what that thing is, please, don’t make me tell you. As a cat owner, it’s not something I enjoy dwelling on or even mentioning.
I’m tempted to issue a spoiler warning so that I can discuss in detail the ways in which the ending fails to deliver. It’s traditional in thrillers for the final confrontation to be implausible, but it isn’t often they’re so devoid of style; the face-off between Sara and Rebecca is short and shows a painful lack of motivation. Is it because writer Sonny Mallhi exhausted all possible clichés by the fortieth page of the screenplay and simply stopped trying? What I find really disappointing is that, in spite of the unoriginal plot, he demonstrates on more than one occasion that he has an ear for dialogue, and you don’t find that too often in movies like this. If he could apply this talent to more fulfilling story, he may have a future in showbiz.
I find these kinds of movies incredibly frustrating, mostly because they suggest a severe lack of confidence in the audience, as if the filmmakers – or perhaps the studio, or both – don’t trust that people are by in large intelligent. To release The Roommate and actually expect moviegoers to be thrilled by it is insulting. Thrills are by definition surprising. Surprises are by definition unforeseen. They’re also by definition impossible in a story that thrives on tiresome formulas and cardboard characters. But by taking the time to point this out, I realize I’ve been just as condescending as the people who made this movie. You don’t need me to spell this out for you. You’re reading this right now, and I know you’re smart. Don’t let movies like this deaden your imagination.