(On TV, November 2019) Calling a film influential is not the same as calling it good. At face value, especially when seen today, Single White Female is clearly not that successful: Ludicrous plotting, incredibly familiar plot elements, undercooked direction and an execution that seems to squander the possibilities of its high-concept premise through obvious choices. But this is nearly thirty years later, and the very qualities that made Single White Female a bit of a sleeper hit have been absorbed and endlessly repeated by a certain strain of cinema. What was novel at the time (a female-focused domestic thriller featuring a “roommate from hell,” directed by a woman, featuring two up-and-coming female leads) has become more commonplace. The premise was so compelling that it led to many, many imitators—a good chunk of made-for-Lifetime thrillers (not to mention BET original movies) veers very close to Single White Female. Watching it today is like going to the fountain from which those imitators have drunk. You won’t be surprised to see that it’s somewhat more thematically deep than surface imitations, or that some narrative beats are clunky when they are compared to later streamlined imitators. It’s clearly a B-movie, but both Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh (both of which have had decent careers in the years following their presence here) do well in the lead roles, as director Barbet Schroeder keeps the potboiler going. While much of the plot mechanics play about as well today as they did, the film is clearly stamped with its early-1990s by its portrayal of computer technology at the time, including an early use of the Internet. Single White Female is not a great movie and its imitators have made it far less distinctive, but it’s watchable enough today—especially as an example of female-produced thriller at a time when such things were much less common.
(In French, May 2019) If you’re keeping track at home, 1993’s Point of No Return is the American remake of Luc Besson’s 1990 French film La Femme Nikita, and both of them can be said to have been prequels to the better-known 1995 film Léon. As a remake, if very close to the original—Americanized, for sure, but otherwise very similar in story beats and overall themes, and perhaps a bit less stupid than Besson’s script. The influences go deeper, of course—Nikita explicitly became not one but two TV shows, there’s a good case to be made for Alias tracing back its early-years lineage to either the French or American version of Nikita, Besson seems to be rewriting his female-assassin urtext every few years (Bandidas was in 2006, Colombiana was in 2011, Lucy was in 2014, Anna is next in 2019) and much of Milla Jovovich’s career seems to have been facilitated by this film. But progeny aside, what about Point of No Return? Well, as directed by John Badham it’s a serviceable action film. The suspense and action scenes can be effective despite their familiar nature, and that goes for much of the film as well—given the endless quasi-remakes of that story, the film does feel formulaic at this point, and even the little bits of interest illustrating the story don’t feel quite as fresh these days. Bridget Fonda does manage a very good action/drama performance, with some smaller but showy interventions by Gabriel Byrne and Harvey Keitel. Execution counts for a lot, and the early-1990s sheen of the film is fast approaching period-piece status, not to mention the trend-trendy filmmaking tracks of the film. The Nina Simone songs add a bit of colour, and Point of No Return frequently needs it.
(In French, On Cable TV, May 2019) It’s remarkable what difference a few years can make at some crucial junctions. If you’re not a kid at a time when a kid’s movie is released, the film will not reach you in quite the same way. The same goes for other movies aimed a very specific age group even later on. As a late and reluctant member of the Gen-X generation (my parents were boomers, so I’m clearly obviously “Echo” rather than the forgotten cohort in between Generation X whose definition keeps changing … but don’t get me started on generational cohorts), I often feel as if I was slightly too young to fully appreciate the classic Gen-X movies as they were released. Singles, for instance, features actors ten years older than me playing characters roughly five years older than me—and that can be a significant difference as a teenager if you’re using university as a significant dividing line. All of this to say that I never saw Singles in theatres, and never had any real desire to see it since then. But now that I’m systematically investigating 1990 movies, Singles stands as a beacon of sorts—widely recognized as a major movie of its generation (I can effortlessly find no less than five “defining movies of Gen-X” lists that mention it, usually in the top ten). It certainly captures a defining time and place—Early-1990s Seattle, with grunge set against an endless backdrop of coffee stores. Our titular “Singles” means both the ensemble cast and a central apartment building not geared toward couples or families. The plot is conventional in the romantic comedy vein, but more interesting than usual in its execution. Writer-director Cameron Crowe was hitting his peak cultural relevance at the time, and his eye for hipness certainly carries throughout the entire film from fashion to musical choices. Obviously, it’s all romanticized, almost fetishized—but at least it’s absorbing enough to keep our interest throughout. It helps that the film features pretty actors—Kyra Sedgwick is Julia-Roberts-level good-looking here, and in between a very cute Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, and Matt Dillon the film has enough eye candy to catch anyone’s eyes. There is a place for movies that firmly (even consciously) mark a definite time and place, and I suspect that the specificity of Singles, having crossed over to period-piece status, will keep acting as a time capsule of sorts for a specific generation … even if it happens to be not quite mine.