Although it sounds like a straight-ahead chick pic, "The Girls' Room" instead turns out to be a humorous tale of difference and tolerance that, in the hands of frosh helmer Irene Turner, is less gender specific than the title would suggest. Winning, intimate performances by former sitcom star Soleil Moon Frye ("Punky Brewster") and newcomer Cat Taber anchor the film and help smooth over its occasional lapses in logic. The generally appealing picture has an outside shot at finding a distributor and will deservedly open doors for Turner, a co-producer on "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss."

Although it sounds like a straight-ahead chick pic, “The Girls’ Room” instead turns out to be a humorous tale of difference and tolerance that, in the hands of frosh helmer Irene Turner, is less gender specific than the title would suggest. Winning, intimate performances by former sitcom star Soleil Moon Frye (“Punky Brewster”) and newcomer Cat Taber anchor the film and help smooth over its occasional lapses in logic. The generally appealing picture has an outside shot at finding a distributor and will deservedly open doors for Turner, a co-producer on “Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss.”

College roomies Casey (Frye) and Grace (Taber) are a contempo odd couple. Casey, a bohemian performance artist with a penchant for bad boys, profanity and pot, garbs herself in black and heavy mascara. Preppy good girl Grace just wants to ace her classes and wed her frat boy Romeo (Wil Wheaton). When Casey’s obnoxious taunts and schemes put Grace’s plans in jeopardy, she resolves to get even.

And so Grace begins to spend time with Casey’s pal Joey (Gary Wolf), a guitar-strumming loner and the only guy her roommate hasn’t nailed. That seemingly platonic friendship begets a cycle of jealousy, suspicion and innuendo that further imperils Grace’s nuptial plans.

Far from being an update of the “Single White Female” — the film that gave female roommates a bad name — “The Girls’ Room” nicely develops its characters , resisting the urge to limit them as easy stereotypes. Casey, it turns out, knows she was dealt a bad hand from the start, whereas Grace subtly begins to question her sheltered Southern upbringing.

Nor does Amanda Beall’s script demonize either character. Both women are flawed, to be sure, but despite their surface antagonism, each harbors a real desire to explore the other’s life. Their mutual attraction-repulsion keeps the tension percolating and thankfully leaves some surprises for the final reel. The characters ultimately emerge in the script as wholly rounded and, as realized in Taber and Frye’s empathetic performances, neither easy to like nor completely despicable.

Others in the cast, especially Wolf and Julianna McCarthy as Casey’s grandmother, provide ample support. Production values are sharp, and the location photography (at North Carolina’s Wake Forest University) lends a sun-dappled collegiate feel to the proceedings.

The Girls' Room

Production

Produced by Carol Ann Shine, Barclay DeVeau, Irene Turner. Co-producer, Michael Hirshenson. Directed by Irene Turner. Screenplay, Amanda L. Beall.

Crew

Camera (color), Cort Fey; editors, Jeff Betancourt, Robert C. Winn; music, Alan Ari Lazar; music supervisor, Peter McCabe; production designer, Tijana Agic-Gaudio; costume designer, Julia Bartholomew; sound (Dolby SR), James P. Lay; casting, Ricki G. Maslar. Reviewed at Santa Barbara Film Festival, March 3, 2000. Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Casey ..... Soleil Moon Frye Charlie ..... Wil Wheaton Grace ..... Cat Taber Joey ..... Gary Wolf Paige ..... Michelle Brookhurst Sweetie ..... Crystall Carmen Rhonda ..... Malinda Williams
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