Single White Female
1992 Directed by Barbet Schroeder. Starring Bridget Fonda, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Steven Weber, Peter Friedman, Stephen Tobolowsky.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 21, 1992
Allie (Fonda) discovers her fiance-roommate (Weber) has been cheating on her -- with his ex-wife, no less. Building a self-operated business as a designer of computer software and possessing a fabulous 2-bedroom, rent-controlled, Manhattan apartment (which could only exist in the mind's eye of the non-native), Allie's in no position to move and so, advertises for a “single white female” to share her apartment. Enter Hedy (Leigh), the roommate from hell. From first appearances, Hedy seems a mousy, eager to please sort and the two women fall into a comfortable domestic arrangement. So their lives begin to intertwine and so what if Hedy twitches uncomfortably and seems a tad too needy and if Allie is somewhat diffident and self-absorbed. Before you can say Persona or Hand That Rocks the Cradle or Poison Ivy, Basic Instinct or Fatal Attraction, Hedy has insinuated herself so seamlessly into Allie's life that it becomes hard to discern Hedy's separate ego boundaries. These are the underpinnings of this psychological thriller. It's a familiar generic piece that's graced with stylish amounts of intelligence, sly humor and visual wit, all thoughtfully concocted by director Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune, Barfly) and his crew. Also, the powerful performances of these two lead actresses are amazing to watch: Fonda proving beyond doubt that she's got the right stuff to carry a lead and Leigh proving that she's simply one of the best actresses working in film. The conceit of this movie is that these two dissimilar-looking characters/actresses can appear believably near-identical (especially after Hedy has her hair bobbed and colored exactly like Allie's). The brilliance of this movie is that it successfully pulls it off. With an astute use of mirrors, reflecting surfaces and curved lines, SWF insidiously makes its case for blurred ego identities and separation traumas. With his third American-made movie, Frenchman Schroeder appears to be making a play for more commercial Hollywood success and Leigh's appearance in this generic thriller may finally earn her the kind of popular acclaim she well-deserves. Make no mistake: SWF is a gory, knock-down sidewinder. For the most part, it works well at this level with the added bonus of some unexpected intellectual twists. The predominant thing that bogs down SWF is the script. It has too many plot holes to be fully believable and too little psychological background on our unbalanced roomie (and when it is revealed, it's revealed all in one stroke). If The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Single White Female teach us nothing else, we will have at least learned to always check a person's references before inviting them to move in to our homes.