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Movie review: 'The Roommate'

Don't make the mistake of moving in with Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester.

February 05, 2011|By Mark Olsen, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Leighton Meester, left, and Minka Kelly star in the thriller "The Roommate."
Leighton Meester, left, and Minka Kelly star in the thriller "The… (Jaimie Trueblood / Screen…)

A small-town girl comes to the fictional University of Los Angeles to pursue her dreams of being a fashion designer and encounters a roommate who is clingy to the point of psychotic. Starring Minka Kelly as that starry-eyed newcomer and Leighton Meester as her 1,000-yard-stare nemesis, "The Roommate" is a waste all around of young, attractive actresses, Los Angeles locations and the time of anyone unlucky enough to sit through it.

Without tension or suspense, the film is too gloomy and chaste to be a naughty exploitation picture but also too brainless to work as anything more real.

Directed by Danish filmmaker Christian E. Christiansen from a script by Sonny Mallhi, the film largely dispenses with such apparently antiquated notions as character development or back story, choosing instead to just sort of dole out information Mad Libs-style as it seems most convenient. A girl off her meds? A previous object of obsession? That sort of info, which actually might help to lend depth, emotional credibility and logical sense to of all this, is just casually tossed out there and then just as carelessly tossed aside.

Also left on the table unexplored are issues of reverse class-envy implied by having Meester's wealthy girl — the press notes say the character is from Pasadena, but the word itself is never uttered — aspire to the life of a seemingly more carefree Des Moines émigré. For good measure the film also features a self-pierced ear, a belly-ring bloodlessly ripped out, a fake-Facebook named Frienderz, an odd thing for Richard Prince's nurse paintings, a brief moment of girl-girl kissing and a kitten named Cuddles.

For much of "The Roommate's" early going any deficiencies in Meester's character are signaled largely by the fact that she has meekly limp hair, in counterpoint to Kelly's luxuriantly bouncy locks. Meester is the brassy, belligerent Blair Waldorf on TV's "Gossip Girl" and there she often seems to be performing in a slightly different register than the other actors, as if she alone is in on the joke. (There was also her scene-stealing sass and vinegar turn in the recent "Country Strong.")

Here her performance often has the feeling of a sports car in neutral. When she punches it for quick changes of tone from manic to wounded or around the bend, she shows how much more she is capable of, as in a seduction scene with Billy Zane as a skeevy design teacher. Kelly, on the other hand, remains either bland — or bland but slightly frightened.

It is of course obligatory to make some mention of this all seeming oddly familiar, something like "Single White Female: The College Years." Yet that film, directed by Barbet Schroeder and adapted for the screen by Don Roos, at least had the gleeful conviction of knowing it was slightly camp trash.

"The Roommate" proves that the one thing worse than a crazy, stalker roommate is one that's boring, predictable and no fun.

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