Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Kudos to Sam in Single White Female

'Allie, he came in my mouth, and then he tried to beat the shit out of me because I wanted to tell you. You know... It was an accident. But... He deserved it.'
Hedra, Single White Female

The other night while flipping channels, 1992's Single White Female was playing on the 90's channel. It was about a quarter through, but I pressed record on the DVR anyway. I never get tired of re-watching Steven Weber's nude scene. Weber isn't new to nudity, he had a butt scene in Just Looking, (1995) and was on stage in a revival of Hair. Watching him again as Sam in SWF had me thinking how unique the role, and the nude scene actually was.

It wasn't just that Weber gives us a flash frontal, it was also the context of his nude scene. The female driven story actually has a cast of mostly stereotypical roles. Allsion (Bridget Fonda) is a pretty bland heroine and even Hedra (Jennifer Jason Leigh) isn't a particularly deep or interestingly written villain. Her killings make little sense and are filmed to shock rather tell any sort of interesting story. Supposedly Hedra wants to remove anyone, (or anything...poor puppy) close to Allison, including Allison's requisite, and pretty boring, upstairs gay neighbour Graham.

Problem is, Allison and Sam's relationship wasn't that solid to begin with. Graham nor the puppy were in Hedra's way and by the time Hedra killed Graham, Allison was already onto her obsession. Hedra's copying behaviour was enough to let everyone know she had some issues. The only character that was remotely unique was Weber's Sam. With two female leads, Sam was a supporting character, in many ways written the way the female third wheel is written in a male driven movie.

That nude scene however, had a element not often seen in mainstream cinema, not in 1992, nor in 2017. Male vulnerability, especially male sexual vulnerability seems almost taboo to many. Female vulnerability is so common in movies and TV, it is almost not even noticed by much of the audience. Almost every night on almost every TV show there are women in peril and needy women wanting a man or needing a hero to get them out of some troublesome situation.

In SWF, Sam was needy. Allison left him and it was Sam who was calling every night, dropping by to visit and working to get Allison back. In my life, I know many straight guys who get obsessed and emotionally dependent on their relationships with women. I have been the sounding board for many straight friends who are devastated that the woman they love is not interested in them. It is pretty common. I think the difference with movies and TV is that most (although not all) guys bounce back fairly quickly on their own. It is not really that uncommon.

Sam is not only the one in need of Allison, he is also the one sexually assaulted by her best friend. The sex scene in SWF is sexual assault, and unlike the stereotypical reactions of the rest of the characters, Sam's reaction was of disgust and anger. Although some idiots might argue that as a man he should have 'enjoyed it', that argument is up there with 'she was asking for it.'

I have seen some well written and vulnerable men on a few cable shows and gay themed movies, yet it is still rare to see one in a mainstream motion picture. It was that 'Sam' was such a groundbreaking character as it was one we just don't see that often. Weber also did a great job of keeping Sam balanced and not moving too far one way or the other. He was needy, not desperate and his vulnerablity was written as normal and not something spotlighted as a week personality trait. Kudos to the writers and to Steven for this rather noteworthy character in an otherwise run of the mill 90's thriller.

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