The late Chuck Vincent’s ultimate cross-over hit swept the AFAA (Adult Film Association of America, founded by Dave Friedman) Awards the year it came out, while simultaneously alienating a lot of porn fans and critics alike, perhaps already planting the seeds for what were to become such organizations as the XRCO (X-Rated Critics Organization) and FOXE (Fans of X-Rated Entertainment). The reason for this very controversy is blatantly obvious. While ROOMMATES delivers in spades in all aspects of good film-making (i.e. script, acting, production values), it virtually overlooks the one aspect that separates adult from mainstream movies. While there’s plenty of sex involved, very little of it is actually erotic or indeed intended as such. “Cult Movies” auteur Danny Peary actually hit the nail on the head when he labeled the film borderline misogynist as its three female lead characters are put through the wringer just to show how strong and plucky they happen to be. That said, Vincent and his regular writer Rick Marx did manage to create a trio of gutsy (if not quite yet independent) women who were unapologetic about their penile pursuits that was totally different from the porn norm and this long before SEX AND THE CITY made such “female misbehavior” acceptable to mainstream audiences. Presumably the first adult film to play mainstream venues since Bill Osco’s porn musical ALICE IN WONDERLAND in 1976 with varying degrees of explicitness, it was embraced by a spectator-ship well beyond the dyed in the wool dirty movie devotees.
In order to beat the high cost of living in New York, three very different but equally career-oriented women decide to move in together. Billie (Samantha Fox in a career-best performance) is an up ‘n’ coming advertising executive with a past in high-priced prostitution that’s coming back to haunt her with a vengeance. Struggling actress Joan (Veronica Hart) wants to make it big on Broadway but carries on an affair with a married man (tall, hulking Frank Adams, a beefy Brian Keith type who was also in Vincent’s GAMES WOMEN PLAY and THIS LADY IS A TRAMP). Model Sherry (Kelly Nichols) has a coke habit that invariably gets her in trouble including gang rape and a persistent pervert, disturbingly portrayed by – who else but – Jamie Gillis. Of the three, Joan gets off the easiest, just having to cope with being strung along by her lying lover and her budding attraction to gay fellow actor Eddie, one of the first parts that allowed the excellent Jerry Butler to flex his acting muscles. As Billie is blackmailed by her former pimp Marv (a rare nasty turn from that terrific comedian Bobby Astyr) to resume her previous capacity as a hooker lest he blow her cover, she winds up at the bachelor party of her lover Jim (Jack Wrangler, JACK ‘N’ JILL together again), adding insult to injury as she had no idea that he was about to marry someone else ! And so it goes. Just about every single sexual encounter has one character (usually male) forcing or willfully deluding the other (usually female), leaving an unpleasant aftertaste. Exceptions are Sherry’s popper-fueled one night stand with Ron Hudd, shot and edited in stuttering MTV style (then not yet the overworked device it has become since), and Joan’s tender initiation of the sexually confused Eddie. Veronica Hart has gone on record to claim that her scene with Jerry Butler here was the only time on-screen sex ever felt like actual lovemaking to her.
Like Chuck’s own follow-up IN LOVE and a few other titles like Stephen Sayadian’s CAFE FLESH or Larry Revene’s RAW TALENT, ROOMMATES falls into that severely limited category of adult movies that keep resurfacing on people’s “best of” lists even though they’re not all that hot. Each of them is very well made however with acting that puts the industry standard to shame. Hey, credit where it’s due. Fox, Hart and Nichols were all Vincent discoveries to some extent – in BAD PENNY, GAMES WOMEN PLAY and BON APPETIT respectively – so it’s particularly pleasing to find the three of them together in the one such case where they received equal billing and screen time. The director’s right hand man behind the camera, the aforementioned Revene, performs his customary sterling duties plus there’s a hauntingly wistful theme song (“Not Another Love Affair”) by the same guys who wrote the slushy theme for IN LOVE. Had Vincent turned up the heat a notch, ROOMMATES would really be the adult classic “everyone” keeps saying it is.