Single White Female March 21, 2016
Single White Female is the type of thriller you find yourself enjoying a lot better once you've embraced its mania. You might be familiar with how its story goes. The film stars Bridget Fonda as Allison Jones, a career girl whose healthy balance between a professional life and a romantic one is thrown out of orbit when it is discovered that her long-term boyfriend (Steven Weber) cheated on her with his ex-wife. Disgusted with his dishonesty and feeling the need to start her life anew, Allison decides that living alone, especially in the wake of a devastating breakup, is not much appealing. Why not take the daring route and look for a roommate?
She puts an ad in the newspaper, but most applicants don’t quite click. Too many neurotics, too many individuals with obvious baggage, show up on her doorstep. So she figures herself lucky when Hedra Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a shy but caring young woman, walks in toward the end of the interview process and proves herself to be a good fit. Somewhat passive but nurturing and respectful all the same, transition is smooth — friendship prospers speedily, and suddenly being single doesn't seem like such a bad thing for Allison.
But just as the situation starts to ease, things begin getting questionable. Hedy reveals herself to be increasingly (and alarmingly) possessive, reacting sharply if Allison stays out late or has a complaint about someone at work. It all particularly worsens when the latter gets back together with her boyfriend. Risingly strange behavior ensues, including the purchases of several of Allison’s outfits, erratic mood swings, and, my personal favorite, the eyebrow raising decision to get her hair cut in the exact same fashion as her roommate. If these aren’t warning signs, then I’m not sure what I’d call them — a shame Allison waits such a long time before taking Hedy’s obsessions seriously.
By the time Single White Female screeches to a halt, Hedra Carlson announces herself one of the most memorable movie villains of the ‘90s. And she's played by Leigh with a convincing instability that prevents her from being ludicrously over the top. Though we’re left doubting the film’s plausibility a lot of the time — most in Allison’s predicament would certainly not ignore the red flags that smother Hedra’s persona so often — the film is good at what it does, which, in this case, is posing as a thriller that rides high on freaky design and low on understatement. And I respond to films like this, ones so wild and fattening that we can hardly do anything but lick our lips as the goings get increasingly rough, to an explosive point of no return. Fonda, looking much like Shirley MacLaine, is a spunky heroine, chic and confident, Leigh a suitable, Joan Crawfordian baddie.
Single White Female doesn’t get any points in terms of how it’s aged — in the twenty-four years since its release, its datedness has begun to show, since thrillers mostly rely on the restrained as of late, and since the movie would likely start conversations about the stigmatization of mental illness in cinema. But this is a fun, shabby, and decently stylish roller coaster ride. B