2012 marks the 20th anniversary of this nineties thriller,
one of the key entries in the “girlfriend/neighbor/cop/nanny/roommate
from Hell” subgenre so popular at the time.
1992’s SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, adapted from the 1990 novel
SWF SEEKS SAME by John Lutz, was the first step down sell-out strip for
France’s Barbet Schroeder. Schroeder directed and/or produced highly
eccentric French language films like MORE (1969), CELINE AND JULIE GO
BOATING (1974), MAITRESSE (1975) and the infamous documentary GENERAL
IDI AMIN DADA (1974). In 1987 he directed his first English language
film BARFLY, followed by REVERSAL OF FORTUNE in 1990, both of which were
very much in keeping with his earlier work…and then SINGLE WHITE FEMALE
It starred Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh, both
of whom were quite hot (in most every sense of the word) in the
nineties. Since then both actresses have largely dropped off the radar:
Leigh only works sporadically and Fonda (as of late ‘12) hasn’t appeared
in a movie since 2002.
Computer programmer Allie Jones is living in a rent
controlled NYC apartment. After breaking up with her philandering
boyfriend Sam, Allie advertises for a roommate. She winds up with Hedra,
a shy and reserved brunette. Relations between the two are fine, but
then Allie gets back together with Sam and Hedra freaks out. Shortly
thereafter Allie catches Hedra coming onto Sam--and later that night
spies her passionately masturbating. The following day Allie’s pet dog
dies in a suspicious accident and Hedra gets her hair styled in an exact
duplicate of Allie’s.
Snooping in Hedra’s bedroom, Allie discovers that Hedra
had a twin sister who died as a child. Now thoroughly suspicious of
Hedra, Allie follows her to an underground S&M club one night--where
Hedra identifies herself as Allie.
Allie tells her gay friend living upstairs what she’s
learned, unaware that Hedra is listening through an air vent. The latter
sneaks up and (seemingly) kills Allie’s friend, and then, pretending to
be Allie, heads to Sam’s apartment and sucks him off. Sam obligingly
lets her finish even after discovering that it’s not Ally who’s blowing
him, and then gets fatally stabbed through the eye with the stiletto
heel of one of Hedra’s shoes.
Now thoroughly unhinged, Hedra ties up her roommate and
shoots an asshole client of Allie’s who makes the mistake of paying her
a visit. Allie manages to escape, leading to a violent--and frankly
pretty silly--chase through her apartment building.
With this film Barbet Schroeder officially made the
transition from arthouse auteur to Hollywood hack, although there are
some eccentric elements. The copious nudity is unusual for a Hollywood
production, and the sinuous and atmospheric Hitchockian visuals are
equally striking. But Schroeder was admittedly following a shopworn
formula established by
FATAL ATTRACTION and its offspring, and also
borrows heavily from ROSEMARY’S BABY (the inspiration for the creepy NYC
apartment building where much of the film takes place, and also Bridget
Fonda’s orange hair bob); there’s even a nod to Ingmar Bergman’s PERSONA
in the final image of the two leading ladies’ faces fused together. Such
derivative filmmaking doesn’t suit Schroeder, whose best work is notable
for its originality and unpredictability.
The screenplay by Don Roos attempts unsuccessfully to
find a middle ground between escapist pulp and psychological
thriller--it’s never made clear whether Hedra is the one dimensional
psycho-bitch from Hell she was in the John Lutz source novel or the
disturbed young woman she appears. The film also helped instigate one of
modern Hollywood’s most annoying rom-com mainstays: the gay best friend
who exists only to comfort the heroine.
It’s a good thing the leading ladies are both so
attractive and uninhibited. It’s always fun watching Jennifer Jason
Leigh act crazy and get naked, both of which she does here. Her
climactic rampage, however, isn’t at all convincing.
Final verdict: a sexy and entertaining time-waster, far
from the “classic” thriller it’s often cracked up to be. Ultimately,
about the best I can say about SINGLE WHITE FEMALE is that it isn’t as
insufferable as later Barbet Schroeder efforts like KISS OF DEATH,
DESPERATE MEASURES and MURDER BY NUMBERS.
SINGLE WHITE FEMALE
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Producer: Barbet Schroeder
Screenplay: Don Roos
(Based on a novel by John Lutz)
Cinematography: Luciano Tovoli
Editing: Lee Percy
Cast: Bridget Fonda, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Steven Weber, Peter Friedman,
Stephen Tobolowsky, Frances Bay, Michele Farr, Tara Karsian, Christiana
Capetillo, Jessica Lundy, Rene Estevez, Ken Tobey