Sisters are doing it (murder) for themselves in “Single White Female” and television is Hell on Earth in “Stay Tuned.”
Single White Female
Nutshell: Fresh from a horrible break-up with sleazy boyfriend Sam (Steven Weber), Allie (Bridget Fonda) is hunting for a roommate to help with the bills while she establishes a fashion software business. Perfectly meek and complimentary, Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) seems like the perfect roommate, trying to befriend Allie in increasingly insistent ways. Creeped out, Allie is thrilled to welcome Sam back into her bed, with the two preparing to make a life for themselves. Hedy, growing obsessed with Allie’s business, isn’t ready to give up on her distancing pal just yet, setting out to threaten and kill anyone who dares stand between her and the twin sister she’s always wanted.
1992: Dear readers, I’m rating this entry PG-13 because I’m going to bring up the topic of oral sex. Nothing too creepy, but when I think of “Single White Female,” I think of an interview star Jennifer Jason Leigh gave around the time of the film’s release, and the topic was mouth love, the fake kind.
I believe it was Movieline that asked Leigh about her history with oral sex in her starring roles, leading to a discussion about the use of a dildo on the set of “Single White Female.” Director Barbet Schroeder was desperate for authenticity during a scene of intimate seduction between Leigh and co-star Steven Weber, asking his star to actually fellate a dildo while cameras rolled, making the simulated act look as real as possible. Reading that as a boy was mind-blowing, revealing a level of madness to the filmmaking process that was shocking. It was a crazily lurid revelation of method acting that knocked me flat, sticking with me throughout the years as an example of pure directorial influence. Note to self: become a filmmaker. You can make actresses do anything.
I’ve spent some time on film sets over the years, witnessing firsthand the hustle and bustle of such endeavors. They can be crowded affairs, with true intimacy in short supply. Granted, there could’ve been next to no one on set when Leigh exercised her gift, but still, even a single bystander is one too many. Jennifer Jason Leigh blew a dildo wedged between Steven Weber’s legs while a camera crew and a director looked on, possibly giving notes during the process.
If I’m the only one disturbed by this image, so be it.
Yes, there was a movie too, but an unremarkable one. I embraced the feature’s thriller inclinations, lavishing praise on the grand finale, which was “exciting.” The rest of the picture apparently bored me, along with its colorless cinematographic look, which is a complaint that surprises me today. I always thought I developed an addiction to color later in life, but there’s proof in the Brichives that I was bitching about monochrome nonsense back in 1992.
2012: “Single White Female” was a surprise box office hit in 1992, and I can see why. Presenting itself as a respectable Hollywood thriller, the feature is actually quite lurid once the viewer settles in, revealing murders, voyeurism, nudity, and sex. It’s exploitation dressed in haute couture, directed with particular attention to unsavory details by Schroeder. It’s a little strange that I barely recall the soft-core interests of the piece, with a second viewing revealing a more B-movie tone to the work than I originally observed.
Also on the odd side is my 2012 reaction to the feature, where I found the build-up between Allie and Hedy more compelling than the climax, which takes a grabby 25 minutes to flex in full. “Single White Female” takes its sweet time bringing closure to the story, shoveling on thriller formula to leave audiences with some bang for their buck. Today, I think the gradual progression of obsession works quite well, permitting Leigh to coil around the film with her natural groaningly off-putting presence, while Fonda makes for a satisfactory semi-antagonist, seasoning Allie with just enough bratty behavior to make one feel bad for Hedy in the introductory moments. Turns out both of these women are mentally damaged, adding a nice little purple-nurple to the script, giving the actresses something with a little more bite to play with. Allie is no saint, creating genuine tension during introductory moments.
Pushing the creep factor along is a supporting turn by Stephen Tobolowsky, here as Allie’s lecherous boss in the software game. He’s a lively figure of sleaziness, giving Leigh a run for her money in the nightmare department. That the character comes close to hero status in the final reel is an inspired turn of the plot. I’m sure Tobolowsky has 9,000 stories from the making of this bizarre thriller.
Moments of alarm are few in “Single White Female,” which aims for unease and achieves it, especially when Schroeder insists on nudity for no reason, trying like mad to goose the sex appeal of the picture. It doesn’t take, though the aforementioned oral argument sequence does nail a curious note of dark comedy, with Steven Weber cleverly playing the moment as an unholy violation of trust he’d, you know, like to experience again sometime down the road. It’s a weird scene, yet it accurately captures the “Single White Female” viewing experience, which vaults from goofy entertainment to unflattering sexuality, with little breathing room between.
Revealing itself today is the picture’s flirtations with internet business, finding Allie quite skilled at booking reservations online and hurriedly typing S.O.S. messages in chat rooms during the climax. It’s cute to see, and I’m sure it was practically sci-fi material in 1992, much like “WarGames” was in 1983. Still, it’s fun to witness these baby steps, watching Allie wow bosses with her online fashion enterprise. Three years after this movie, Sandra Bullock would order a pizza online in “The Net.” A decade later, Stephen Dorff would battle an online serial killer in “FeardotCom.” In 2012, I would actually recall the title “FeardotCom” while writing this online diary. The mind boggles.
“Single White Female” is also serves as a potent reminder that Bridget Fonda is missed. Granted, she was never an electric actress, but her effortless screen charm was welcome in most of the duds she appeared in. “Female” is one of her better pictures, making good use of her vulnerability and sensuality. She quit the acting business in 2002 to be a mom, a most noble endeavor. It’s too bad she hasn’t thrown herself in front of a camera since. Her punky screen presence could be put to good use these days.
Nutshell: Married couple Roy (John Ritter) and Helen Knable (Pam Dawber) are facing a severe lack of communication due to Roy’s television addiction. Arriving to solve the family problems is Spike (Jeffrey Jones), a demonic spirit assigned to suck people into his own private cable line-up, forcing innocents to fight for their lives as they work through 666 channels of programming. With their parents gone, kids Darryl (David Tom) and Diane (Heather McComb) struggle to fish their loved ones out of the T.V., finding help from Crowley (Eugene Levy), an employee of Spike’s who’s also been banished to the cable listings.
1992: As one might expect, there’s no tale of quirk that accompanies the “Stay Tuned” diary entry. I was mixed on the feature at the time, dismissive of the plot because it reduced screentime devoted to the television lampoons that dominated the strangely hyperactive marketing for the film. One, highlighting Ritter’s long overdue return to the world of “Three’s Company,” was a particular temptation, leaving me a little deflated to find “Stay Tuned” more concerned with perfecting a satiric aim than launching a chaotic blast of cheeky comedy. It seems I just wasn’t in the mood for such an enterprise.
Of course, being reluctant to enjoy anything emerging from director Peter Hyams seems perfectly logical in hindsight.
2012: It’s interesting to see that what passed for television satire in 1992 is actual television today. Not that “Stay Tuned” was prescient in any way, but the cable revolution was just starting to gather steam when the movie was released, with hundreds of entertainment options giving the script an incredible opportunity for a full-blown lampoon of contemporary viewing habits. Criminally, nothing in the picture is even remotely funny. Hyams flounders with a juicy concept, burdened with stale jokes and a stiff cast (I love “Mork and Mindy” as much as the next guy, but unflavored Dawber is a strange choice for a leading lady), pushing through the madcap story as fast as he can to minimize the groans and grimaces. Perhaps the director makes the smartest play by keeping the feature so short (just over 80 minutes) and one-dimensional, clinging to speed like a filmmaker who clearly understands the picture isn’t working.
“Stay Tuned” is decorated with commercial, movie, and sitcom parodies, each featuring a demonic slant, keeping in step with the story’s Hell-based activity. With such an expansive invitation to pants the entertainment world, it’s stunning to see the script play dead when dreaming up jokes. “Northern Exposure” becomes “Northern Overexposure.” “Three Men and a Baby” is turned into “Three Men and Rosemary’s Baby.” Maxell is displayed here as “Max Hell.” And the “Saturday Night Live” parody?
Oh man, it’s great.
Wait for it.
“Saturday Night Dead.”
Hyams sneaks in some “Dr. Strangelove” fandom to keep himself entertained, and the heavy Hyams lighting around the film brings depth to nothingness. There’s a Chuck Jones cartoon provided as well to bring some color to the proceedings. Unfortunately, it’s all for naught. “Stay Tuned” simply crashes upon takeoff, going nowhere in a hurry, sniffing around for pop culture overkill and domestic depression insight it never makes a genuine play to explore. Having John Ritter flop around for an hour and change doesn’t make bad material sing. Did we learn nothing from “Problem Child?”
“Stay Tuned?” More like “Stay Dead.”
Coming next week…
Brandon Lee steps up his action figure pose.
The saga of Christopher Columbus is handed to the Salkinds.
Betty Lou has a gun in her handbag, and nobody cares.