Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ten Days of Terror!: Single White Female

Film: Single White Female
Format: Starz Encore on rockin’ flatscreen.

I like Bridget Fonda. When I first started becoming interested in movies, she was one of the first actors I gravitated toward. Now that she has retired from the business—14 years without a movie—watching a Bridget Fonda movie comes with its own set of emotional experiences for me. There’s a wisp of nostalgia, a small bit of joy at seeing someone I like, and the realization that I’m old. One of the Bridget Fonda films I’d never caught up with until now is Single White Female. I’m not sure what that is, frankly. It’s certainly one that I knew about.

Single White Female is perhaps the last great pre-internet stalker film. We’re a few years before everyone had an email address and about three or four years before everyone had a cell phone. Single White Female is very much about identity as well. This is the sort of film that works on a number of different levels of fear. It’s the kind of thing that just barely scrapes by on the level of possibility, the sort of thing that makes a good thriller. We’re given a premise that is just on the edge but manages to still be completely believable.

Allie Jones (Bridget Fonda) is a software designer in New York City just getting started. She’s planning on marrying Sam Rawson (Steven Weber) when she discovers that he recently slept with his ex-wife. This leads to an immediate break-up and Sam being kicked out of the apartment. With her business just starting, Allie can’t make her rent payment on her own, so she needs a roommate. We get a montage of potential roommates, and then in walks Hedra Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

Hedra is mousey, quiet, and needy. She attributes this to having had a stillborn twin, and thus always feeling as if she was meant to be a part of something larger, as if a large part of her is somehow missing. We as the audience soon become aware of Hedy’s neediness when it is evident that she is erasing phone messages from Sam, essentially keeping Allie all to herself. Things start to turn a little uglier when Sam does manage to win Allie back, meaning that Hedy will soon need to move out of the apartment, and potentially out of Allie’s life. She gets a little reprieve in this area when Allie’s one client (Stephen Tobolowsky) demands sex as payment for not ruining her reputation with other clients. Hedy is there to comfort her.

It’s also here where things being to take a much darker cast in the film. Hedy takes Allie for a haircut/makeover and gets one herself—one that makes her look exactly like Allie. It doesn’t sound like much, actually, but it’s a really chilling moment where it appears that Hedy is either trying to become Allie or replace her. Back at the apartment, Allie goes snooping in Hedy’s room while Hedy takes a shower. She discovers that Hedy’s real name is Ellen Besch. She also discovers that Hedy/Ellen did have a twin sister who drowned at age 9. She also finds a letter from Sam that had been hidden from her.

As you might expect, things get darker and more twisted from there. There’s a good hour of film left after Allie’s discovery that her roommate isn’t who she claimed to be, and it’s an hour that builds moment by moment, getting deeper and deeper into exactly what Hedy/Ellen’s psychosis really is. The final 15 minutes or so go full-on into action/thriller territory. It may seem a little planned and clichéd on the surface, but it’s actually pretty effective when the movie is going on.

While Bridget Fonda is the nominal star here, for my money, the real stand-out performance is that of Jennifer Jason Leigh. Leigh manages to be oddly sympathetic for the first half of the film and then deeply troubled and disturbed in the second half. It’s very Norman Batesian in a lot of ways, and Leigh goes for it completely.

This isn’t to say that Fonda handles her role poorly. I like Fonda more or less in general, and she’s particularly good here. She manages to be both terrified and possessed of an inner strength at the same time. She’s incredibly sympathetic from the start of the film to the end, and not just because she’s Bridget Fonda.

If I have a complaint, it’s that the final moments of the film, the final confrontation between Hedy and Allie, are too action movie-ish for my tastes. Allie, who has been completely believable up to this point as a normal woman in a surreal and terrible situation becomes in a moment John McClane. It lasts for just a few seconds and could have been handled a little more competently, which would have kept the overall believability-in-an-extreme-situation nature of the film as a whole. It’s a minor thing.

Ultimately, this is a good thriller. It’s got some good scares without relying too much on the clichés and the jump scares, but by basing everything in the characters. It’s a little bit sexy, a lot creepy, and generally effective. And it’s a good reminder that Bridget Fonda is still missed on the big screen.

Why to watch Single White Female: The creep factor is very high.
Why not to watch: The ending is a little too action movie for what the film has built up.

4 comments:

  1. Saw this in the theatre when it was out and not since but I enjoyed it at the time. I'm not much of a fan of Leigh which is most of the reason I never watched the film again. However she was very effective as the nutso Hedy and the film contains some real jumps.

    I too am a fan of Bridget Fonda, all the Fondas actually though Peter I could take or leave, and wish she hadn't decided to give up acting. She was a stunner when she was working but she also seemed to have a gift for characterization which would have stood her well as she moved in to character parts. Oh well I can always pop Point of No Return into the DVD player. It's a silly headed actioner but she gives it some texture and Anne Bancroft is fierce in it, I get a kick out of it every time.

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    1. I think the moment I really started to respect Bridget Fonda was when she took a nothing cameo role in Army of Darkness, probably just for the fun of doing it. I love when actors do things like that, and to have someone pop into a cheesy horror/comedy film like that on a lark, and be gone within the first minute or two, is something I find fun.

      Doc Hollywood and A Simple Plan are the ones I remember the most. The first because it's a surprisingly fun film. The second because it's a truly excellent performance on her part.

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    2. I'd agree on both points about those two movies. She's adorable in Doc Hollywood, she glows and is just full of charm. She makes something out of a part that could have been just another bubblehead small town sexpot.

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    3. I agree. The line Woody Harrelson says to her at the end, "Slide a bit, Nancy Lee," is something I say at least once a week to someone in my family.

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