The Roommate won the special Filmex competition as the best American independent film in the competition. The field this year was largely dominated (at Filmex, at least) by productions made for the PBS series American Playhouse, and The Roommate is no exception, though I believe it hasn't been shown on TV yet. The Roommate is a very nice film which should appeal to current and ex-college students who had to put up with totally impossible roommates. Since all roommates are totally impossible, and since most of us on the net have college experiences, that should make The Roommate a perfect film for Usenet.

The story is set at Northwestern University in the 50s. An extremely straight-arrow type, even for the fifties, has come to the university as the first step in his life's plan. He's going to finish in three years, transfer to medical school, become a doctor, marry his sweetheart, and go back to his South Dakota town to join his father's medical practice. The boy (Lance Guest) is assured by his mother that the university will do its best to match up compatible roommates. We all know better, and our hero soon finds out. His new roommate is a precursor of things to come, a premature sixties child. He's a vegetarian, a follower of Gandhi (down to the spinning wheel), a non-believer in studying, given to community service before it was fashionable to do so, enamored of sitar music, and in general given to unusual behavior. He also has an understandably belligerent attitude towards criticism. To top it all off, to Guest's horror, he tears up telegrams from his draft bureau. Perhaps the last straw is his religious beliefs. About the only thing Guest takes time out for from studying is church and prayers. Huc, the roommate, is into mantras, yoga, meditation, and a rather different view of the divine.

Hate at first sight is probably too extreme a description of these two, but they definitely don't hit it off. Huc seems to be able to laugh off critical remarks made by anyone else, but takes deep offense to any negative comments made by Guest. Guest is dreadfully sensitive to each and every one of Huc's eccentricities, taking them as personal insults. In no time at all, Guest is plotting ways to get out of his current room and into any other, so long as Huc isn't there.

The story, based on John O'Hara's short story The Christian Roommates is perhaps still a bit literary in the telling, but director Nell Cox has a good eye for visuals, so the story doesn't bog down. The message, obviously, has to do with tolerance and maturity, but, to its credit, Guest isn't the only character with things to learn. Cox avoids sledgehammer approachs and unrealistic outcomes, so the lesson is quite palatable. The Roommate is entertaining throughout.

Guest is excellent in his role, as is Barry Miller as the impossible roommate. The rest of the cast is fine, as well. I make particular mention of Tony Mockus, in the role of Guest's father, not so much because of his performance (which is good in a small part), but because I knew his son at Notre Dame. We performed together in a play I was extremely satisfied with. Mockus Sr. is one of the more distinguished local actors from the Chicago stage scene. I hope his talented son has been successful in following in his father's footsteps. Good luck, Tony Jr., wherever you are!

The Roommate is blessed with impeccable production values. The photography is lovely, the campus and interiors look beautiful, the period detail is exact. Cox has gotten excellent value out of what couldn't have been a very large budget.

The Roommate is not the sort of film one gets terribly excited about, but it's a good, solid effort which will be appreciated by most viewers. Independent or not, this is classic Hollywood filmmaking: a slightly liberal viewpoint, flawless technical aspects, competent direction, good performances. Cox doesn't seem to be deeply involved with the material, giving it a very slightly superficial feel, but the general intelligence and good sense involved with The Roommate make it a pleasurable experience.

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