If I didn't know this was written by a man I'd swear it was written by a woman because it's got the female interactional style down pat. Don't blame me for this observation. It's straight out of Deborah Tannen, your major feminist. We have a friendship between two women, one very plain (Jennifer Jason Lee) with an ugly name, Hedra, and the other glamorous (Bridget Fonda) and with a suitably post-modern name, Allyson ("Ally"). (The plain one is nurturing and definitely non-threatening to the glamorous one.) They eat ice cream cones together, like the same movies. They swap presents. When one is upset, the other offers to make tea. And not just tea. CHAMOMILE TEA. Can you imagine John Wayne delivering Fonda's line -- "I'll make some tea. Chamomile. And then we can TALK." No, you can't imagine John Wayne ever uttering such a suggestion. Don't kid yourself. "Talkin' words is fer wimmin."
Then the relationship begins to get a little twisted. Lee begins to delete phone messages from Fonda's estranged boyfriend, Sam. They begin going through each others' closets, drawers, secret shoeboxes, and other forbidden information preserves. There are intrigues, sexual and otherwise. Lee adopts Fonda's style of grooming and actually looks like her, which displeases Fonda and fools Fonda's boyfriend Sam. Lee murders a puppy. Then she evidently kills Graham, the gay upstairs neighbor, gives Sam an intraorbital prefrontal lobotomy with a stiletto heel, and puts two or three holes through the face of Fonda's libidinous scuzzbag of a boss. Lee, a complete fruitcake by now, ties Fonda to a chair with duct tape from which Fonda tries desperately to escape, only to find, when successful, that she is pursued by a deranged Lee down to the basement of the huge apartment building. It is all supposed to have something to do with Lee's twin sister who died at nine, but that's psychobabble.
I want to get back to Graham, the gay upstairs neighbor. He has a habit of listening to the conversations downstairs through the grating of a heater. (Cf., the same device in "The Horse Soldiers.") This prompted me to wonder what the hell kind heaters they have in this apartment building. But that's not what I wanted to get back to Graham for. I wanted to get back to him because of what happens to him about two-thirds of the way through. He's discovered something about Lee and when he confronts her in his apartment, she loses it, jabs him in the stomach with the iron prop bar from the door, then bashes his head in -- twice.
The end of Graham, right? He is incommunicado and unable to help Fonda when things get bad for her because, after all, he's somewhat dead and must by now have assumed room temperature. Well, not exactly, because near the end we see that Lee has stashed his body under water in his own bathtub, his dead cat perched placidly on his chest.
Graham has been feeling like this for hours. And yet, when Fonda is really IN EXTREMIS, and Lee is about to plug her with an automatic, Graham, ever the unflappable, ever the Mad Monk, springs to life, jumps out of the bathtub and temporarily disables Lee. And he's not even DRIPPING.
The first two thirds of the movie are pretty well done. (I bought the DVD.) Nice photography and good performances from the two leads. The men are incompetent nincompoops as always, never there when you need them, and are easily forgotten. But the intricacy of the relationship between Fonda and Lee is nicely rendered. Lee has the splashier role and makes the most of it. She is thoroughly deglamorized to emphasize the contrast between her and Fonda, although to be sure Fonda can be made to look a little crummy too if the role calls for it.
Barbet Schroeder, the director, certainly knows where the put the camera. Alas, he shrugs and throws away the story at the slasher climax. Just when someone is doing something a bit naughty, a figure appears in the background and looks over her shoulder. Fonda is hiding in an air vent from Lee, who is pursuing her with one of those lethal stevedore cargo-lifting hooks that can be found in every basement. Lee is creeping around, demented, eager to kill. Nevertheless, Fonda is so frightened of a mouse that she betrays her location.
The film does have a good deal of redeeming social value though, in that it contains ample nudity and sex in various forms that should be familiar to any cultivated viewer.
It's all quite impossible to take seriously but it is engaging.
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