College is a rather awkward place, when you think about it, and dormitories are doubly so. It’s not really home, though it’s usually the first time so far from home for so long. To make it worse, you’re expected to share your living space with someone you’ve likely never met before. And really, who knows what you’re going to get? Lots of people have horror stories about college roommates, but The Roommate can outdo most of them.
Sara (Minka Kelly) is a freshman at the University of Los Angeles — ULA, not UCLA, and shot at Loyola Marymount — from Des Moines, trying to make a splash in the fashion world. She quickly makes friends with Tracy (Alyson Michalka), a flighty girl down the hall, and gets dragged off to a frat party rather than sit around waiting for her roommate to show up. There she has a meet-cute with fraternity member Stephen (Cam Gigandet), before making it back to the dorm to run into her roommate, Rebecca (Leighton Meester).
Rebecca, it seems, isn’t quite right. At first she’s quiet and standoffish, except for her developing relationship with Sarah. But as time goes on she starts getting jealous and protective of her roommate, who seems to be her only friend. It’s a pretty straightforward path from there, and not one that hasn’t been covered before. And yet it still manages to seem fresh.
A lot of the credit has to go to Meester, who absolutely owns the screen as Rebecca. She inhabits the character, down to the subtlest nuance of eyes or lips, both of which director Christian Christiansen focuses on. She has this practiced way of going completely affectless the moment nobody else is watching her, which makes Rebecca even creepier on her own than when acting out. It’s clear that Meester’s performance in Country Strong was no one-off fluke, and hopefully there will be a lot more to look forward to seeing from her.
The rest of the cast are good enough in their roles, but it’s all pretty straightforward. Gigandet is as puckishly charming enough as Kelly is standardly pretty. Michalka follows up her part in Easy A with another offbeat-friend role. Billy Zane puts in an appearance as a nattily-attired fashion design professor.
At least the movie’s treatment of a common theme manages to be delivered a little better than the usual. For one thing, the action is almost all between the women; Stephen is not the big strong man who swoops in to save Sara. It also avoids the worst of the possible pandering like the classic lesbian-equals-crazy trope. At its heart, the movie is about the violence and backstabbing that women do to each other in the name of loyalty and social position.
Which is not to say that it’s not without its problems. Chief among them is the implication that people with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder are violent and dangerous. Once it comes up that Rebecca “takes medication”, that seems to be enough explanation to cover all of her behavior. It’s also not exactly a feminist tour-de-force that lists a professor who clearly states her name only as “Woman Professor” in the credits.
All told, none of these were quite so bad as the audience. The cast is chockablock with CW series stars and regulars, and the rating came in at a PG-13. The upshot is that the auditorium is packed with young teenage girls who have yet to learn not to talk out loud in a movie theater. With that in mind, it might be better to leave this one alone until the DVD release, or at least later in its theatrical run. But it’s definitely not one to let slide entirely.
Worth it: yes.
Bechdel test: pass.