Single White Female – An Essential 1990s Psychological Thriller (2024)

Barbet Schroeder’s “Single White Female” looks at how easily relationships can be obsessive, and how obsession can lead down a dark and dangerous road.

Even with its thriller aspects, Single White Femalecould have been a completely boring movie. However, the acting and the basic premise offer plenty of depth, preventing it from becoming a “strictly by-the-numbers” affair. The result is anything but boring.

When the film begins, one might easily mistake it for soap opera-style melodrama, as the focus is overwhelmingly on Allison “Allie” Jones (Bridget Fonda) and her relationship with Sam Rawson (Steven Weber). As one might expect, he had recently cheated on her and she’s not too happy about it. The feeling we’re supposed to have, of course, is that he’s a slime ball, undeserving of a 2nd chance (which was a fairly common theme in 90’s movies, as I recall).

However, unlike some movies of the time, which arguably sought to elevate women while demonizing men (Thelma & Louise, Cape Fear,Sleeping with the Enemy,etc.), Single White Femaleweaves a complex narrative web in which all characters are ensnared, and nearly all become guilty in some way. Aside from Allie and her neighbor Graham Knox (Peter Friedman), no one comes across as a goody-two-shoes.

Yes, Allie’s new business partner Mitchell Myerson (Stephen Tobolowsky) is a bad guy overall, but one of the film’s main ladies isn’t so flawless herself. Enter the world of Hedra Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Allie’s new roommate, who becomes a little obsessed with their friendship, and with Allie herself. She definitely becomes the main problem for Allie, and it’s interesting to watch. As one might expect, things start going a little too far with her roommate, and stiletto heels become more than fashionable footwear.

Hedra (or “Heddy”) is definitely a memorable character, and not just because she’s mixed up. What’s really interesting is how, ultimately, she’s just trying to piece her life together but lacks the mental stability and social understanding to do so. She ends up being a sympathetic character, despite her overbearing and obsessive traits, and the evil things she’s capable of. She’s complex. There’s a mixture of her being someone who has “snapped” yet basically knows what she’s doing. Her need to regain composure and appear normal after she overreacts makes her a unique, tortured character. Hedra creates most of her problems, is aware of it, but does her best to sweep the reality under the rug. It’s a chilling psychological portrayal. Unfortunately, such mental gymnastics are entirely plausible, and there may be a little bit of Hedra in all of us.

I must admit, I hadn’t watched Single White Femaleuntil the year 2018. At the time of its release, I remember it being mentioned quite a bit. So, when I happened to find it online, I figured, “Oh, what the heck, I’ll give it a try.” I wasn’t disappointed, even though I had a rough idea of what was in store (some plot details were kind of “spoiled for me,” which is bound to happen with a movie this old). Still, it kept my attention the whole time, especially for a movie that didn’t have the nostalgia factor going in its favor for me (because, again, I had not seen it earlier).

It’s probably better that this was made in the ’90s, though. For me, the allure of certain 1990s movies is simply that, generally speaking, they have better pacing. Most post-’90s films rapidly go from shot to shot, scene to scene, catering to short attention spans while overwhelming the viewer’s senses. Single White Female, on the other hand, built up a sense of suspense, dread and (in some sense) mystery, by keeping the pace relatively casual and letting the scenes breathe a little. This also enhances the action for when things do get a little busier (and they do). The increased pace has more meaning, more intensity.

Many people might appreciate this as an example of 1990’s cinema done right. Also, it does what the best thrillers do: It reminds us that no one is truly safe. Maybe we shouldn’t be terrified by every new roommate we have, and maybe we won’t be victimized by anyone and everyone, but every new relationship can carry risks. It’s very easy to cross the line into madness.

Next. ‘The City of the Dead’ (1960) – A film with a surprising punk and metal legacy. dark

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Single White Female – An Essential 1990s Psychological Thriller (2024)
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