The whole potluck roommate situation is a college freshman’s nightmare waiting to happen. The idea that you will be sharing a space that will serve as your dining room, study, bedroom, and living room with someone you’ve never met before might in itself be a little scary. In The Roommate, however, Leighton Meester portrays a roommate far scarier than any freshman horror stories I’ve ever heard.
The Roommate opens on Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly), a first year fashion student at the University of Los Angeles. As she starts her first semester of college, everything seems to be going well. She makes fast friends with other girls on her floor, meets a cute boy at a frat party, and has a nice, if odd roommate, Rebecca (Meester). As the semester continues, however, Rebecca becomes increasingly over-protective and possessive of Sara, scaring off the other girls on the floor and creeping out Sara’s boyfriend, Stephen (Cam Gigandet). By the time Sara starts to suspect something is seriously wrong with Rebecca, the roommate has already started to destroy those closest to her.
My expectations for this movie were pretty low. It is, after all, a February thriller, a notoriously bad breed. As it turns out, however, The Roommate is beautifully filmed, full of shots that play with different lighting effects, color, and camera angles, many of which remind me of Hitchcock’s movies. The score of the film was successful at evoking emotions of wonder and suspense without becoming overbearing like so many recent thriller scores (i.e. Shutter Island, Inception).
The artistry with which the movie is made helps support Meester’s performance of Rebecca’s descent into madness. While from the start it’s clear that something isn’t quite right with Rebecca, the gradual escalation of her controlling and violent behavior punctuated by outbursts of revenge is well played by Meester who can quickly switch between sweetness and insanity in her facial features. Minka Kelly, on the other hand, is, strangely, too cute. She makes a nice foil for Meester, but her babydoll voice and overly adorable behavior just make her look like a bad actress.
Although the cinematography is wonderful, the movie is rife with lapses in common sense and wasted opportunities. At many points on the way when I thought the story would zig it zagged and the zag was less interesting. For example, when Sara and Rebecca spend an awkward Thanksgiving at Rebecca’s parents house, the sequence is set up like it has potential for something really twisted to happen, but this portion of the movie ends abruptly and felt thrown away. At other points, the story just doesn’t make sense. Sara suspects something is amiss at her friend Irene’s apartment, but she can’t get into the building and never follows up. Later, she just walks into the building, no problem. She could have been buzzed in, but it’s unclear. After her ex-boyfriend is scared off by Rebecca, he doesn’t call for months, but then shows up at her dorm without any warning of his arrival. These lapses may be small, but they detract from the strength of the story.
The Roommate was engaging and well-crafted, but undercut by these gaps in the storytelling, earning it 3/5 stars.
The Roommate was written by Sonny Mallhi and directed by Christian E Christiansen. It runs 93 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality, and teen drinking.
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