The Roommate (2011) 

Crimes:

  • Being the umpteenth variation on the Fatal Attraction/Single White Female-style thriller, this time starring Leighton Meester as a mentally unbalanced co-ed who commits acts of violence to protect her relationship with her roommate, Minka Kelly
  • Moving slowly and steadily through one “Meester does something crazy behind Kelly’s back” scene after another, while never becoming over-the-top nutzoid enough to be fun
  • To quote the director in the commentary track: “I think we can all tell what’s going to happen here.”

Defender: Director Christian E. Christiansen

Tone of commentary: Gung-ho! The thickly accented Christiansen begins by telling us that he’s recording this track in his home country of Denmark, a month before The Roommate’s release in the States. Then he talks about his Danish moviemaking career, and how it took off with his first film, which “got really good critics.” For the remainder of the track, he walks us through the wonders of Hollywood filmmaking: how he used digital effects for the cell-phone text messages so they’d be visible onscreen, and how he had to cut one walking-and-talking scene short because the production was required to pay for every square foot of ground they used. Throughout the commentary, Christiansen is infectiously enthusiastic about how fun it is to make movies, especially in Los Angeles, a city he previously experienced only vicariously. The peek behind the curtain clearly delighted him. (“That’s a real café, but it’s rented out for films!”)

What went wrong: As ebullient as he is, Christiansen doesn’t shy away from complaining about the compromises required to make a Hollywood movie. To keep a PG-13 rating, for example, they had to edit down a same-sex kiss—a shot Christiansen admits he swiped from Cruel Intentions—and had to make sure Kelly’s character didn’t know she was drinking spiked punch at a frat party. They also had to fictionalize all the locations (“This is back at the dorm room, shot at the USC, Los Angeles, but we’re not allowed to call it the USC”), and had to destroy all the reproductions of Richard Prince’s nurse paintings used in the film. Christiansen is candid as well about the conventional elements he was obligated to include, like the movie’s first big scare, which “had to be in the shower because that’s what you do,” and the last big scare, which he describes as “the Fatal Attraction moment… everyone knows she’s going to grab her.” And he outright says he thought some of the scenes he had to shoot were “stupid,” but explains that producers contractually obligate directors to get certain shots so they can exclude the director from the editing stage if their relationship sours.

But Christiansen can’t blame all The Roommate’s problems on his bosses. He admits that test audiences laughed at some of his shock effects—or “booms,” as he calls them—and that they had to tone down some early scenes so Meester’s character wouldn’t come off as too crazy too soon. He also says he actually liked the music by the modern-rock band that appears in the film, even though the script described them as “shitty.” And over and over, he notes that he has no actual experience with the America depicted in The Roommate. When he says the dorm-room set was bigger than a real dorm room, he adds, “I’ve never been to one myself.” And when he mentions that Kelly’s character is from Des Moines, he says that’s “more like farmers’ country… I’m not sure about that.”

Comments on the cast: Christiansen praises his actresses effusively, but does point out the one time when they got distracted during a scene because they were afraid they were going to step on the dolly tracks. He also coos over Billy Zane, who plays Kelly’s lusty teacher. He reminds us that we probably know Zane from Titanic, but “My favorite movie with him is Dead Calm… but that’s another story.”

Inevitable dash of pretension: Christiansen isn’t all that pretentious, though he’s disarmingly enthusiastic about the movies he loves. “Everything George Lucas and Steven Spielberg did was great!” he says, describing his early influences. And later, he notes the use of a clip of The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, “which is an all-time favorite of mine, historic films!”

Commentary in a nutshell: “This is a fun little scene, actually getting into frat life, I guess. I’ve never been to a frat party, which is kind of strange, but I’ve obviously seen it in movies like 200 times before, so I basically based everything in these scenes on things I saw in American teenage films and television shows. And also, obviously, the script.”

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