Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Here’s what you need to know about The Roommate: It’s Single White Female in a dorm room. All of the “obsessive female friendship” elements are in place: The two women (played by Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester) share a resemblance, one of them has lost a sister to whom she was very close (Kelly’s character, Sara, in this instance) and Rebecca, the one who becomes obsessed, is not taking her medication. (She is, of course, bipolar and schizophrenic.)
So often films about crazy, stalker-like female friendships hint at lesbianism; an “I love you and if I can’t have you, no one can” enthusiasm that at least one character will notice. In The Roommate, it’s Sara’s boyfriend, Stephen, who asks Sara if perhaps Rebecca likes her a little bit too much. This is after Rebecca has confronted Sara in the hallway about why she was out so late (while Sara was kissing Stephen goodbye), and Rebecca had threatened another girl in the dorm, telling her that she would kill her if she didn’t stay away from her roommate.
What does Rebecca want from Sara? It doesn’t appear sexual at all. In fact, Rebecca seems asexual, and uses seduction as a means only of blackmail and getting what she wants, which is Sara all to herself. But it’s not because she wants to sleep with Sara — in fact, they do end up sharing a bed together once and a scene from the trailer/promotional photos of Rebecca caressing the sleeping Sara’s face doesn’t even happen in the film.
Rebecca just wants a friend, really badly, and she thinks Sara is perfect. She’s her roommate, so she’s a built-in friend. Unfortunately for Sara, that makes her the only one Rebecca is interested in getting to know.
There is a still a lesbian element to the film, however, because there is an actual lesbian character. Irene, played by Danneel Harris is a family friend of Rebecca’s. She’s older, working in fashion after having graduated from a California art institute the year before Sara and Rebecca became roomies. Early in the film, Sara explains that Irene travels a lot, but she hopes to be able to see her when she has downtime in L.A.
We first meet Irene while she’s working backstage at a fashion show. She is beautiful, well-dressed and genuinely excited to see Sara, whom she’s known all her life. There is no indication she’s a lesbian until back in Sara’s dorm room, where Rebecca is studying photos of Irene on Frienderz (a social networking site like Facebook) and noting, “Irene sure likes the ladies.” Sara responds, “Always has!” And that’s the end of that conversation. Foreshadowing!
Irene becomes a threat to Rebecca when she offers Sara the opportunity to move into her apartment with her. Irene offers Sara a huge stack of outfits she doesn’t wear anymore, and Sara says she doesn’t have the closet space. Irene urges Sara to move in because she’s never there and then she can keep the kitten, Cuddles, she found and is hiding in her dorm. Because Cuddles is a reason Sara says she might actually go through with the move, guess what happens to the kitty? (I won’t tell you how.)
After Cuddles is taken out, Rebecca decides she needs to rid of Irene. She tells Sara she’s going to the studio to draw all night and not to wait up. This is strange, of course, because Rebecca is always in the room. You wouldn’t even know she was enrolled in classes if it weren’t for the fact she’s assigned a dorm room. She must be failing every class except Sara 101.
Instead of hitting the studio, Rebecca heads to a lesbian club where she knows she can lure Irene — and this is where it gets eyeroll worthy. Irene is standing on the balcony of the club, surveying the dance floor below. She appears to be looking for her prey, and she spots a blonde dancing between two women. It’s Rebecca. They lock eyes and a moment later, Irene is headed to the bathroom to reapply her lipgloss.
Rebecca enters right behind her. At the mirror, they’re the only two in the room and Rebecca asks if she can try the lipgloss for herself. Irene begins to hand it to her, but Rebecca is using the old “let me get a taste of something that’s on your lips” trick. They kiss briefly, and Rebecca says, “I’d say let’s go to my place but I have a roommate.” Irene follows up with, “As luck would have it, I live a few blocks away — and I don’t.”
That’s where the night ends, and Sara is trying to ring Irene’s buzzer the next day but getting no answer.
She’s slowly beginning to attempt to separate herself from her roommate, but gets suckered back into awkward situations with her, like when she came home and found Rebecca beaten and bloodied, crying in her bed. It was staged, and Rebecca won Sara’s attention. But Rebecca crosses the line when she gets a tattoo of Sara’s dead sister’s name over her heart, the exact same tattoo and placement that Sara has to remember her by.
Sara can’t get ahold of Irene, so she temporarily moves in to Stephen’s frat house. On the night of a party at the frat house, she receives an urgent text from Irene to come over right away. Sara heads over, leaving Stephen a voicemail with Irene’s address, asking him to come over and help with whatever it is her friend needs. When she gets there, the door is ajar, and things are eerily quiet and dark. Once she steps inside the bedroom, though, Irene shoots up from under the covers of the bed, screaming through the bandana tied around her mouth.
She is bound to the bed completely, wearing only a tank top and underwear. It appears she’s been there since Rebecca seduced her at the club a few nights before. And, uh oh, Rebecca is right behind the door.
I won’t ruin the ending for you, but suffice it to say it’s as predictable as the rest of the film.
The Roommate, unlike Notes on a Scandal, High Tension or Heavenly Creatures, did not have an explicit lesbian-obsession between friends, but it appears the filmmakers thought this kind of film couldn’t survive without some sort of sinister girl-girl element.
Irene, while put-together in the rest of her life, appeared predatory, hypersexual and naive. And because Rebecca bears a striking resemblance to Sara, it could be argued that Irene might have had an interest in bedding her potential new roommate. (If that were the case, though, it would be just another barely explored plot element that begged for more detail or wrapping up by the time the film had ended. That’s one thing I’m happy to see not explored further, thank you.)
Overall, the film is quite laughable. Rebecca’s behavior (and how Leighton Meester plays her) had everyone in the theater laughing out loud at times. It wasn’t as perfectly creepy as other films like Single White Female or even non-lesbian related but stalker-esque stories such as Fatal Attraction have been. But when it comes to the lesbian character, you’ll probably react more similarly to how my girlfriend did (a little too loudly) when the two women share the lipgloss-lock and leave the club together: “That’s not how it happens.” Cue theater laughter.