and sometimes poetry

The Roommate (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

When, in our lives as people forced on occasion to cohabitate, do we begin to worry? At what shiver in our peripheral cognition, what imperceptible lowering or heating up of a hitherto comradely atmosphere, what unexplained missing sock, or shirt, or necklace, or kitten?  When is it proper and fitting that we allow the miasma of anxiety that generally accompanies sustained proximity to other people calcify into annoyance, or disgust, or, as is the case of the roommate in The Roommate, honestly-gotten terror? When, in other words, does it occur to us that living with people we’re not having sex with sucks? We dip our madeleine into the cup of our own witch’s brew of shared living and realize that, as the true moral of this movie makes clear, generally much too late. Like the two hot freshman The Roommate stars, surfaces are deceiving when it comes to the feminine juggernaut of competing dorm posters and “you can borrow whatever you want of mine anytime!” Your roommate may be pretty, but rest assured: she also be crazy. And—”she” isn’t you. Ever. You’re never crazy. Or bitchy. Especially if, like us and the good character in this movie—we think her name is something highly improbable like…Minka Kelly?—you are from the Midwest. Nope! Nobody mean or crazy or off their meds from here!

The content of The Roommate may want us to think, in its vapid, bubble-top kind of way, about the other-in-self and possibly something related to a high-school psych understanding of psychoanalysis, but the form of this movie asks us to contemplate one thing and one thing only: how did it not totally suck? Cheaply made, poorly scripted, sprinkled with actors whose real names are “Cam Gigandet” and “Leighton Meester,” barfing up quasi-film noir angles and blur like a sorority girl at the local Ben & Jerry’s outlet—The Roommate should have been at least as bad as some girled-out version of The Mechanic. But it wasn’t. It was somehow really enjoyable. It took its conventions and made them about as conventional can be, but in doing so it allowed all artifice—all pretension at art-making—to disappear into the story we knew we were going to get and, by the end, couldn’t wait for. We’ve spent years learning how to write “good” poetry, and yet this movie reminded us that everyone knows, when they sit down to broken up lines on a page, that they’re going to be reading “poetry.” What happens when they greet something that thoroughly and almost unthinkingly inhabits its generic formulae? The Roommate doesn’t suggest that content suddenly springs—or OMG should—to the fore. But whatever happens, it’s more fun than Mark’s made out AWP to be.

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