On Sunday, the Academy Awards celebrated the best films of 2010. Although some nominated films were unworthy of their acclaim, most of them were well-done and told original stories. Unlike most of those nominees, the recently-released thriller “The Roommate” is a predictable story about a college student who eventually becomes obsessed with her roommate.
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As the story begins, Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly) moves into her new dorm eagerly anticipating the arrival of her new roommate. Leighton Meester plays the quietly intense roommate who has few friends to speak of. Unlike Rebecca, Sara is outgoing and makes friends quickly. However, when one of them disappoints her and leaves Sara in a tricky situation, Rebecca is there to support her and show her what true friendship really is. The problem is that Rebecca wants to be more than friends. She wants to be Sara’s best friend. Her only friend.
Other people soon get in Rebecca’s way and start spending time with Sara. That includes Sara’s new boyfriend and a fashion design professor who wants to sleep with her. A well-dressed Billy Zane is wasted in his role as the teacher who enjoys flirting with his female students and tries to seduce Sara. When he fails, Rebecca finds out and seeks vengeance. In one of the story’s few appealing qualities, Rebecca doesn’t start out as a “crazy killer” on the loose. At first, she prefers threats and blackmail to murder and mayhem. She figures out a way to protect Sara from her teacher without any bloodshed. However, the story’s restraint doesn’t last long and once Rebecca starts becoming more possessive, she’s unwilling to waste time with simple threats.
As usual in this type of story, there’s an innocent animal that gets in the way. Sara and Rebecca adopt a cat and keep it as their secret until it starts causing problems for them. Like “Fatal Attraction” and “Single White Female” before it, “The Roommate” shows that when pets start going missing in thrillers, that’s the time for people to realize that a psychopath is around.
Many critics noted how similar this story is to “Single White Female,” the early 1990’s flick about a woman with an obsessive roommate. This story does borrow a lot from that one, including a man taking advantage of the lead character, a boyfriend that gets in the way, and the aforementioned pet incident. “Single White Female” wasn’t even a good thriller to begin with so it’s disappointing to see filmmakers trying to follow its formula so closely.
My greatest criticism of “The Roommate” is its lazy storytelling. The story offers nothing new to its genre. Instead of attempting to create a solid thriller, the filmmakers chose to make a typical one with bland characters and lackluster twists. Neither Meester nor Kelly can do much with their cardboard roles.
With so many worthy films in theaters including some Oscar nominees, it’s surprising that “The Roommate” has performed as well as it has. This story is just another entry into a tired genre that needs new life shot into it. Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester might be two new actresses in Hollywood but “The Roommate” is nothing that film-goers haven’t seen before.