Thursday, August 18, 2011

Single White Female (1992)

Directed by Barbet Schroeder
Starring Bridget Fonda, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Rated R

"I know you weren't yourself when you did this, Hedy."
"I know. I was you." 

Directed by the fancifully named Barbet Schroeder, an Iranian born Frenchman probably best known stateside for 1987’s Mickey-Rourke-does-Bukowskl hipster docudrama Barfly, Single White Female is a dark thriller based on SWF Seeks Same, a novel by mystery writer John Lutz.  Given that Schroeder specializes in dank, depressing dramas about heroin and Nazis, it’s fairly safe to say that he did not envision Single White Female as a comedy. Likewise, the film’s two earnest young stars, Bridget Fonda  and Jennifer Jason Leigh, seem pretty convinced that they're creating high drama as well. The hideous outfits, worse hairdos, overwrought dialogue and near-constant nudity would suggest otherwise, but what the hell, it was the early 90’s. We didn’t know better back then. 

Fonda is Allie, a chick with a bad red bob who is marrying Sam, the dude from Wings (Steven Weber). In the opening scene, she finds out he's still banging his ex-wife. So that's uncomfortable. She's super-naked in this scene though.

Obviously, she's got to move on. First though, she has a meeting with Stephen Tablowsky and shows off her cheeseball 1991 software.

 He hires her for a low-ball price to do whatever he does. Some kind of fashion thing. So now she's got a gig, but without the scumbag boyfriend, she has to find some way to pay her rent. She'll have to get a roommate!

She sees a bunch of potential roomies.. Most of them are clearly insane. One last straggler, Hedra (Jennifer Jason Leigh)  shows up. When she gets there, Allie's curled up on the floor, crying her eyes out. 

They get into some leaky faucet antics together and girl-bond.. She's a little weird, but what the hell. They decide to give it a go. A fixing-up montage ensues. Also they eat ice cream and Allie teaches Hedra to dress like a real New Yorker. Gal pals in the city. So far, so good.

But then, one night, Allie notices some pills on Hedra's dresser. What are those for? Hedra pops up out of nowhere and tells a sad story about her dead twin. Luckily, her shirt's off at the time.

Sam keeps leaving let's-get-back-together messages, but Hedra just erases them. Also, she buys Allie a puppy. And then they watch old movies on TV in bed together. Is that weird? Could be weird.

Also weird, she's starting to wear Allie's clothes when she's not around, as nice-guy neighbor Graham tells her.

Sam shows up to get Allie back. She is unaware that he'd been trying to contact her, since Heddy's been disposing of any such evidence.

Amazingly, they decide to get back together, and they stay in a hotel to bone unencumbered. Heddy, meanwhile, sits alone eating ice cream and kicking the dog. Also she takes a bath. Boobs! 

When Allie comes back the next day, Heddy's super-pissed.

Heddy figures out what's up. She doesn't take it well. But what's she gonna do, really? Things get a little nuts with the two of them there. Allie's getting into a lot of naked antics with Sam, and Heddy's getting weirdly flirty with him. Plus, she masturbates with the door open. These two are naked a LOT in this movie.
Sam and Heddy look for a new place together. While that's going on, in a fit of jealousy, Heddy throws the puppy out of the fuckin' window. So that's the end of that.

Also, Allie's boss puts the moves on her. It's pretty rape-y, as far as these things go. He thinks he's gonna get a blowjob, but she kicks him in the nuts and splits.

Heddy, being a lunatic, knows how to fuck people royally. So she calls the boss pretending to be Allison and threatens him, tells him she’ll ruin him and his family if he doesn’t pay up.

And then they go out and get matching hairdos. Great. Now we have two goofy red bobs to deal with.
Back at the house, while Heddy's taking a shower, Allie goes through all her stuff. She finds photos of her with her twin sister – who obviously didn't die at birth – and also all the letters Sam sent her. Also, she may or may not have drowned her sister, given the handy newspaper articles in her shoebox-of-evidence.
So then Heddy goes to a weird S&M club and Allie follows her. She's there to find a boyfriend who looks like Sam. Also, they play that horrible disco Gregorian chant stuff.

That's pretty much the last straw for Allie. She goes up to tell Graham what's up. He tells her she's got to get rid of her.

On the way out, Graham casually tells her he can hear everything going on in the apartment through the vents. Hi might have told her that when she moved in. Would have been nice to know.  Anyway, it means Heddy heard the whole conversation. Allie doesn't figure that part out, though. Anyway, as you might expect, that's the end of Graham. Heddy sneaks up their and bashes his brains in.

At this point, there hasn't been any nudity for about ten minutes, so Heddy takes a shower. Allie tries to have a conversation with Heddy about all this craziness, but she's gone over the edge at this point. Also, Heddy's dad calls – Allie called him looking for help – and Heddy hangs up on him after he tells her if she doesn't come home, he's not gonna pay for her pills anymore.

So…Sam was out of town all this time. He comes back and Heddy shows up his hotel room. It's pretty dark and she looks just like Allie, so he doesn't notice until halfway through that it's not his girlfriend blowing him. He decides to let her finish. More nudity! Anyways, Sam's not impressed by her display.
So, you know, what can she do? She jams her high-heeled shoe into his eyeball. In the 90's, that would kill you instantly.

Allie finds out by watching the news the next morning. Yikes! Meanwhile, Heddy's burning all her stuff so that she can get the hell out town. Then she tries to straighten Allie out.

At this point, Heddy's got a gun, and she's dragging Allie around the apartment building, looking for an escape route. They end up at dead Graham's place. Allie gets tied up. Things get crazy from there. The brutal girl-on-girl violence is pretty impressive.  

There is almost nothing better than a good murderous stalker chick flick, and this is definitely one of the good ones. There’s something wildly compelling about watching a pretty young woman go absolutely bonkers, using both feminine guile and masculine violence to get her way, no matter how bizarre and misguided said way actually is. The fact that the antagonist in this film is only 5 foot 3 and probably 95 pounds only makes the whole absurd premise even loopier. As mentioned, there’s every indication that the cast and crew were attempting a serious, nail-biting thriller – and the $50,000,000 box office receipts would suggest that most of America did, as well -  but the dated look of the hair and clothes, the goofy dialogue, the shoe-horned plot points (what criminal carries all the evidence against them in a shoebox?), and gratuitous nudity all push Single White Female firmly into the trashy-campy category. I, for one, am perfectly happy with that. Fast, fun, completely implausible and needlessly earnest, Single White Female is gussied-up exploitation with A-list actors who seem to have no idea they’re in a B-movie. Also, if you think fashion was ugly in the 80’s, SWF provides ample evidence that the 90’s were no aesthetic picnic, either.

- Ken McIntyre

PS: Hear the Movies About Girls crew discuss Single White Female on Episode 118 of the Movies About Girls podcast

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