February 17, 2011

The Roommate Shines, Rest of Cast Does Not

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Most commercial thrillers these days are bereft of substance, but since they are typically geared toward the youth market, this rarely affects their yield at the box office. Such is the case with Screen Gems’ The Roommate, a mostly innocuous film about a deeply troubled girl seeking affection from her college roommate.

Set at the fictitious University of Los Angeles (ULA) but filmed at Loyola Marymount University, The Roommate attempts to tell the story of Sarah (Minka Kelly), a corn-fed girl from Iowa who moves to big city in hopes of becoming a fashion designer. Not since the death of her sister Emily has Sarah shared a room with another person, so she is particularly anxious to meet her new roommate. Enter Rebecca (Leighton Meester), a maladjusted artist from a wealthy family.

At first, Sarah and Rebecca appear to be a match made in heaven; their pairing seems like a testament to the effectiveness of residence surveys. Unfortunately, perfection is fleeting, and almost immediately it becomes clear that Rebecca isn’t just anti-social, she’s a certifiable sociopath. Well, I should clarify; it becomes clear to the audience almost immediately. Sarah, on the hand, takes another hour’s worth of convincing. And, therein lies the central problem facing The Roommate: Sarah is so dumb that it becomes difficult to root for her.

Kelly tries her best to play Sarah’s stupidity as naiveté, but Sonny Mallhi’s script doesn’t do her any favors. This is Mallhi’s first screenwriting credit, a fact that is painfully obvious. Rather than provide even the vaguest sort of backstory for her characters, Mallhi opts to reveal things in dialogue, under the assumption that it will provide much needed shock and awe to this otherwise bland feature. In doing so, she more or less handcuffs all of the actors in the film. Only Meester is able to transcend the material given to her.

Meester, who was also the highlight of December’s Country Strong, is slowly establishing herself as one of Hollywood’s most promising young actresses. Rebecca could have easily been played as an outright loon, but Meester tries desperately to make the character worthy of sympathy. In fact, Meester was so committed to her role that she actually let the holes in her ears close, so a scene in which Rebecca pierces her ears in order to please Sarah would be more authentic.

Danish director Christian E. Christiansen seems confused about what type of film he’s making. Afraid to really objectify his female muses and risk getting an R-rating, he basically becomes a bored shot monkey. Sadly, his boredom is infectious. By all accounts, this movie should have been a campy sort of bad. Yet, it fails to achieve even that, which is particularly shameful, given that Christiansen was 2007 Academy Award nominee for the short film At Night.

Despite all of its shortcomings, The Roommate does have one thing going for it. Casting director Lindsey Hayes Kroeger managed to assemble one of the more attractive casts in recent history. On top of Kelly and Meester, this smorgasbord of attractive women also includes Aly Michalka, Danneel Harris and, to a lesser extent, The Vampire Diaries’ Nina Dobrev and Katerina Graham, while ladies will be happy to see Twilight’s Cam Gigandet and 90210’s Matt Lanter grace the screen. Do all the pretty faces make up for The Roommate’s problems? No. But, they do make the film far easier to sit through.

Original Author: Wesley Ambrecht