Single White Female (1992)

*. I feel I should like this movie more. I like Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh a lot, and they are both really good here. And while the story doesn’t break a lot of new ground, it is at least a tested formula.
*. Perhaps my problem with it is that the formula is too tested. Where there are no surprises there is little room for suspense. We all know there’s something wrong with Hedy from the get-go, and we all know exactly how this arrangement is going to play out.
*. In addition to the predictability there is the flat, I might almost say lifeless, direction of Barbet Schroeder. For a psychological thriller film there is a surprising absence of style. There are no set-piece suspense sequences and little imagination in the use of the setting. Instead, it seems as staid as a filmed play on a restricted set with a small cast of characters.
*. What saves it, and makes it a movie worth returning to, are the two leads, who manage to be riveting even underneath their ginger muffin-top haircuts. Bridget Fonda is a very hard actress to steal a scene from, and yet Leigh does so with a performance full of quiet, nervous intensity. She never lets Hedy get out of control, and even at the very end we have the sense that she’s more depressed about the turn things have taken than she is angry.
*. As just one example, I love the scene where she considers Steven Weber’s body after driving her spike heel into his head. It reminded me of Michael Myers tilting his head to inspect his handiwork in Halloween, both dissociated and childlike.

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*. Why are literary females so threatening? Alex in Fatal Attraction works in publishing and has piles of books beside her bed. Annie in Misery is at least a dedicated reader. Hedy here works in a bookstore. Both Amy in Gone Girl and Amelia in The Babadook are (or were) professional writers. Coincidence? Or is there something about bluestockings that men find slightly sinister?
*. Hedy has a back story that makes her a more sympathetic character, which is rare for a film like this. Evelyn in Play Misty for Me and Alex in Fatal Attraction pointedly come out of nowhere. In the novel Misery Annie Wilkes has a very developed history that we get less of in the film.
*. Here, however, we do learn a little bit about Hedy and what makes her tick. Thank heavens all these crazy women keep personal scrapbooks! But there’s a fine line to walk at the end of such films as to how much psychologizing you want to throw at the audience. I see it as being the legacy of the shrink at the end of Psycho who comes on to tell us what was wrong with Norman Bates. That scene is judged by most people to have been a mistake and I think ever since filmmakers have been wary about trying to explain evil. Is there an underlying suspicion here about the truths of psychology and the effects of trauma? I think there is.
*. That orange hair. I can’t stop hating it. You have to work hard, I mean work really hard, to make Bridget Fonda look bad. But here we are. I guess they were trying to go for something distinctive so that Hedy’s makeover will be even more obvious, but if that was the reasoning I think it was a garish mistake.
*. Something seems off in either the editing or the choreography of Hedy’s attacks. There’s too much time in her wind-ups, so that you’d think her victims could quite easily either duck or block what she’s throwing at them.
*. Annie’s apartment is in the Ansonia building, which was originally a residential hotel built in 1899. Now it’s luxury condos, naturally, and it likely costs a small fortune to live there.
*. I’ve seen this one labeled as an “erotic thriller” but despite lots of nudity and some fooling around in bed it doesn’t feel at like a sexy film. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, or even if it was a conscious decision.
*. All in all it’s a good little film that never realizes its full potential. Fonda and Leigh are great, as usual, but it’s a conventional thriller with little else to recommend it.

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