Going off to college carries many fears, but none are played upon as much as the dreaded evil roommate. It’s an idea that has been played with in film and television (it even took over the plot of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for goodness sake). The Roommate doesn’t bring anything new to the idea of a psycho roommate, but it does offer a presentation that will make some teenagers keep a closer eye on whoever they are assigned to share a room with as they head off to school.
Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester play a new pair of college roommates: the stable Sara (Kelly) and the slightly psychotic Rebecca (Meester). Or is it the stable Sara (Meester) and the slightly psychotic Rebecca (Kelly)? The truth is, the girls look so similar that it’s hard to differentiate between them, creating the (appropriate) assumption that, at some point during the movie, one of the girls is going to pose as the other one. For people unfamiliar with the actresses’ prior bodies of work (TV shows Friday Night Lights and Gossip Girl), it might be hard to remember which actress is which during the movie (for the record, Kelly is the stable one, while Meester gets to go psycho).
At first all is well in roommate-ville. The two girls hit it off beautifully, and why shouldn’t they? Sara is a fashion student while Rebecca has a closet filled with designer labels. Never did two girls make a better match. As the story progresses, however, Rebecca becomes dangerously possessive of her roomie, threatening the local skank-whore who threatens to lead Sara down the wrong path (played well by Alyson Michalka), threatening a womanizing professor who makes advances toward Sara (played not-so-well by Billy Zane), and… well, threatening just about everyone who could possibly take Sara away from her. Eventually, after far too long a time, Sara starts to figure out things aren’t quite right in roommate-ville after all, but by then Rebecca has become seriously unbalanced.
I never got into Friday Night Lights, so I can’t comment on how much Minka Kelly pushes herself as an actress, but I can say this is a big departure from the role we saw Leighton Meester play in Country Strong. There she had to be the innocent, yet ambitious, down-home country girl. Here Meester plays a fascinating departure from that, with a character who appears innocent and sweet at the start, but rapidly descends into a pit of madness. Unfortunately the role doesn’t carry a whole lot of subtlety between the two ends of Rebecca’s spectrum; she’s sweet or she’s crazy, but Meester does play both sides rather well.
The Roommate plays out exactly like you would expect it to based on the trailer. There are no twists or turns that deviate from the film presented in the film’s marketing, which is good for people who want to see that movie. Unfortunately, the final picture takes ninety-minutes to tell the same story presented in the trailer. The audience is ahead of the story from the start and Sara starts to look like an idiot for not piecing together what’s going on sooner. This creates some pacing problems as Sara’s suspicion grows and then randomly subsides, allowing Rebecca to perform more psychotic acts while Sara just smiles and looks pretty. There’s a school of thought that says every scene in a movie needs to affect what’s going on – it can be a positive or negative change, but something must change. The Roommate script doesn’t subscribe to such a thought process, spending a lot of time in neutral position.
I have no doubt that The Roommate won’t be the worst thriller out this year, but it is too contrived a story to offer so little originality. Fans of the genre would be better served just watching the trailer repeatedly or cuddling up with a copy of Single White Female then spending time with these college roomies. The performances aren’t bad, but the story just isn’t satisfying enough for a full feature film.