28 NOVEMBER 1992, Page 58


Single White Female (`18', selected cinemas) Sister Act (`PG', selected cinemas)

Nutty excuse

Vanessa Letts

In what could politely be described as rigorous homage to Roman Polanski's film Rosemary's Baby, Single White Female is almost entirely set in a gloomy apartment building in the West 70s in Manhattan. We first see it drenched in moonlight. Inside there are air vents, incinerators and eleva- tors that don't always work. Allie Jones (Bridget Fonda, daughter of Peter, niece of Jane, grand-daughter of Henry) lives in a rent-controlled apartment which is wonder- fully spacious but unfurnished and falling to pieces. Gauzy curtains keep the light dim and diffuse, emphasising her golden hair and her slim white neck. Howard Shore's music is par for the course with foggy orchestration and endless arpeggios in the bass.

Allie's life is disintegrating. We see her having great sex with her fiancé, Sam, but it turns out he's having great sex with his ex- wife as well. Allie is also finding it difficult to sell her colour-by-numbers fashion design computer program. She gets rid of Sam and takes in a weedy but enthusiastic little lodger instead (Hedy, played by Jen- nifer Jason Leigh). Then, when finally she seems to be moving ahead and rediscover- ing herself, her only client tries to rape her. `I can't believe I didn't see it coming,' she wails. As Allie's life crumbles in all direc- tions, Hedy steps in to comfort her with various unconvincing compliments: 'You have this great personality,' etc.

Single White Female indulges in a labori- ous flirtation with the audience. We know that actually Hedy, the nice new room- mate, is going to turn out to be a nutter: it's all a matter of time. We ought to be jumping up and down and yelling at the heroine, 'Look behind you! Look behind you! You think you've got problems? Just you wait!' But the film is long, slow and tedious, and if it inspires any strong feeling it's not going to be fear. This raises the question: why do people like psychopath movies? They require incredibly little effort to cook up. In Single White Female the nutter's motivation is dealt with in two minutes of purple-wash flashback. Hedy has a twin sister who died. Yes, folks, that's it. Now, hurrah!, we can sit back and watch five savage murder attempts, some of them successful, and, in case it turns us on, a bit of pseudo- lesbianism too. What can the point of this possibly be when even the thrill of being afraid is denied us? The whole thing ends with a song: don't know how I survived.' If you don't go to see the film, you won't have to ponder this difficult question. Sister Act also has a two-minute motiva- tion scene. As a kid, Deloris Van Cartier, played by Whoopi Goldberg, raises a laugh by being cheeky to a nun. Thirty years later she gets the chance to have another go and seizes it with aplomb. Deloris is a lounge singer. Her boyfriend is a hood. When acci- dentally she witnesses an execution in his office, she flees to the police, who put her in hiding. The safest place they can think of is St Katherine's Convent, run by Maggie Smith in the middle of San Francisco. Deloris is not designed to fit in. The film trundles along, full of holcy- Poky, mayhem and one-liners. Deloris can't stand the rigours of the order. In a fit of annoyance she shouts, 'I'll commune my little black ass in my room.' But Maggie Smith as a po-faced Mother Superior is having none of it: 'God has brought you here — take the hint.' Here is a film appar- ently in a completely different realm to Single White Female, promoted as good clean entertainment, whereas Single White Female is out-and-out dirty. And yet the average cinema audience doesn't seem to make a distinction. If it's banality you want, then, after all, there's little to choose between them.