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Upon moving into a new house with her new husband and stepdaughter, Dina Myer (from the Saw movies and Starship Troopers) discovers that her house is haunted by the ghost of a little girl. The little girl is mistaken for her stepdaughter’s imaginary playmate, but soon the ghost’s more malicious intentions become clear. The girl was murdered by her father and is trying to avenge her death by… um… doing a bunch of confusing things to the family.
I’m not going to go into the various boring plot twists and turns of Imaginary Playmate – it’s your basic haunted house plot – but I would like to focus on the underlying real horror of this movie, which seems to be the terrifying real-life tale of having to deal with your new stepdaughter and husband, both of whom seem to still love their dead mother/wife.
Far more frightening to Lifetime audiences than a dead child ghost haunting your dream house and ripping your family apart is the idea that your hunky new husband might not be as perfect as you thought and that – gasp! - he might love his daughter from a previous marriage more than he loves you. I know. I had to cover my eyes and shriek several times.
Although at first Dina’s husband seems utterly perfect – he’s both hunky and financially stable — we soon find that he has some traits that would make even a Saw fan scream in terror. Upon arriving home from work, he drinks a beer! And often, he stays late at work in general! And, worst of all, when Dina starts to think that her daughter is being harassed by a ghost, her husband is skeptical!
Just when we’re sure that there’s no hope for Dina – the ghost causes her to miscarry her own baby (which would, unlike her stepdaughter, actually love her for real) – she gets advice from an old friend. Her friend is the opposite of her husband. He doesn’t tuck in his shirt, he is slightly less hunky, and, most importantly, he does what every Lifetime movie lover wants in her life: he hands her a bouquet of flowers, looks her in the eyes and says, “I don’t think you’re crazy.”
In the climactic scene, as you might guess, her stepdaughter has to choose between Dina and her dead mother. The ghost brings the girl onto the house’s roof and commands her to jump off in order to join her and her dead mom. Dina tells her stepdaughter to ignore the ghost and come to her, her fake mother. After much thought, the stepdaughter chooses her living stepmom over her dead mother (it’s a tough call to make).
The movie, bafflingly, ends without telling us much of what happened after this point. The hunky husband who has shown his evilness through drinking single beers and not believing every crazy word that comes out of Dina’s mouth, is left splayed out at the bottom of a staircase, unconscious and perhaps dead. I guess we’re not supposed to care whether he lives or not?
Did you know that Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal’s father, Stephen, has directed a daunting mountain of TV movies? It’s true. One of them is The Patron Saint of Liars, based on the novel by Ann Patchett. Unfortunately, Steven isn’t quite as talented as his kids and the movie in question is inversely as awesome as its totally awesome title.
Rose is a woman who can’t help but run away from the people who love her most – and when she finds out she’s pregnant she abandons her loving husband to move across the country to a Catholic shelter for unwed mothers. The only thing she truly loves is driving. At the Catholic home she marries the handyman, Son, has her baby, and runs away from them, too, after 15 years (or approximately 45 minutes of meandering and episodic plot and about 30 Target and Nair commercials).
In the end, after a lot of driving, which she loves and which everyone always mentions, for some completely unknown reason that has nothing to do with the story, she comes to her senses and returns to her family (the second family, that is. Her first family is left forgotten and abandoned). Hugs all around.
What interested me most about this movie was how perfectly the handyman, Son, is as a romantic interest in this movie and for the entire Lifetime Movie Network demographic (the LMN demographic, in case you didn’t know, consists of women, 25-55 who are wearing sweats, thinking about folding clothes, and eating low-fat yogurt as I write this (I am one of the masses!)).
He’s not adventurous or dashing or ambitious. He’s simple. He just wants to love and be loved. Best of all, he quickly and accurately fixes things around the house, from carpentry to wiring to gutter cleaning. He won’t say anything about your sweatpants. I mean, his name is SON – what more could a woman want? I’m sure LMN women everywhere swooned – oh, to have a man who complains when you aren’t around and who would fix that light fixture in the kitchen! Oh, to have a man totally understand that you love to drive and that this is the only defining characteristic of your personality!
The other thing that really caught my attention in this movie was how bad God seems to be at special effects. He performs two miracles during the movie – one near the beginning and one near the end – and he’s not winning any Emmys for His work. He’s not even getting nominated. It looked like all He did, really, was shake the camera so that it looked like the ground was rumbling and rent a couple of smoke machines.
In the end, though, The Patron Saint of Liars is one of the more directionless, wandering TV movies that I’ve seen yet. The plot isn’t so much a plot as a string of things that happen. Maybe Ann Patchett or Steven Gyllenhaal misunderstood the meaning of “character-driven” and took it literally?
I’d be curious if the book was any better than the movie. In any case, I bet you’d have to sit through fewer Nair commercials.
Just as a puggle is somehow more adorable than either the pug or the beagle, the best Lifetime Original Movies are the ones that blend two Lifetime genres together. In Stolen Miracle, we are treated to your basic stolen baby plot (so deeply loved by Lifetime fans) and your basic Christmas miracle motif – creating a superior film that has both larger, floppier ears and wiser, droopier eyes.
On Christmas Eve, a bipolar woman named Mary kidnaps a newborn baby boy from a hospital. Months before, she suffered a miscarriage but continued to believe (and tell her live-in boyfriend) that she was pregnant. While the birthmother (who has an actual husband, making her less evil) spends the movie so distraught that she barely has a speaking part, Sgt. Jane McKinley takes on the case – perhaps putting her own family aside in order to do her job and recover the baby in time for Christmas.
To fit the Christmas miracle genre, several vague symbolic Christmas themes were added. For example, the boy was stolen right before Christmas and is “delivered” home by Christmas Day – kind of like how Christ was delivered on Christmas Day (it’s left unsaid whether the baby is any sort of messiah). Also, Mary seemed to be a sort of “anti-Mary,” in that she can’t conceive even though she’s totally having sex and praying for a baby. In Mary’s house, there’s a nativity scene that the camera likes to focus in on from time to time.
Mary, as she gets crazier and crazier, begins ranting about how all she wants is a Perfect Christmas. And, as we all know, Perfect Christmases involve stolen Christ-like babies, car chases, leather-jacket-clad common-law husbands, and stopping your medication. I also like to throw in some eggnog and carols.
However, Sgt. Jane McKinley seems to have forgotten what a perfect Christmas means: she’s never home with her family, she’s fixated on her career (supporting her family) and helping others (charity), and she refuses to get her whiny son the expensive material object that he constantly complains about not having. This means, of course, that she doesn’t love her family or understand the meaning of Christmas.
Slowly, through a series of obvious leads and clues (I’m guessing Lt. Lennie Briscoe could have knocked this one out during a Law & Order commercial) McKinley solves the case, returns the baby to his family, and vaguely patches things up with her family. In the final scene, her whiny son gets his expensive material object from the family that bore the Christ-child.
Mary, the mentally ill and heart-broken woman who only wanted a chance to be a mother and a shot at a Perfect Christmas, is happily forgotten by everyone, including whoever wrote the teleplay. Merry Christmas, everyone who is not incarcerated and who also has the ability to successfully reproduce! We deserve it!
For regular readers of my Lifetime Movie installments, I’d like to unveil my new Lifetime Movie tab, located at the top of my blog. Clicking on it will get you a neat, alphabetical list of the movies I’ve reviewed so far as well as other related Lifetime Movie posts. It’s crude right now, but it should start looking more filled out in the next couple of days.
There’s also a comments section at the bottom, if you’d like to contribute your own deep Lifetime movie reactions, share your own story of the time your identity was stolen by your brother’s bulimic killer, or alert me when an especially good (or bad) movie is scheduled to come on either the Lifetime channel or on the Lifetime Movie Network.
The day after Thanksgiving I watched more Lifetime movies than any one person should. In between eating plates of leftovers, popping Extra Strength Tylenol, and assuming the gym would be closed without actually checking, I watched and watched. I covered all of the major Lifetime themes: the accidental killing of a family member, the on purpose killing of an abusive family member, the shoplifting addiction, the teen pregnancy, the eating disorder, the schizophrenic, and the murder mystery that seems to be a mystery to not only the actors, but also the writer, and the director.
One of movies that I watched from start to finish, though, was Too Young To Be A Dad, a fun twist on the teen pregnancy genre of LMN flicks. Instead of following the girl’s story as she made hard life decisions, the movie focuses on ninth grader Matt Freeman (played by Paul Dano, who has since gone on to bigger things like Little Miss Sunshine).
It’s not a bad idea – I didn’t feel like anyone had explored what teenaged boys go through when they get a girl pregnant. Did they ever want to keep the baby? Did they ever go to alternative high schools? Was it possible for males to have feeling for babies, too?
The main problem with the movie, aside from the conspicuously missing 15-year-olds-doing-it-on-camera sex scene, was that the girl Matt gets pregnant is portrayed as a heartless whore – not because that would be an interesting story, but because it makes you, the person watching the movie, have an easier time caring about the teen dad and ignoring the teen mom.
She heavily pressures Matt to have sex with her, even after Matt voices his reservations (Matt is established as Purely Good within the first minutes of the movie, where he is seen doing well in math class and thanking his mother for making him snacks after school). The teen whore reassures Matt that she does it just to do it all the time, you know, since she’s a whore without feelings.
After he gives in (and gets her pregnant on the first try), she basically disappears from the movie. Her father keeps them from talking, she doesn’t want to see Matt after the baby is born, and she doesn’t make a fuss when Matt tries to adopt the baby himself. This is because whores hate babies and see them merely as the unpleasant side effects of having loveless unprotected sex with multiple partners.
It felt a lot like the pregnant girl was playing the part of the stereotypical Lifetime Dude Who Accidentally Gets a Teen Girl Pregnant And Runs. Much like her male counterparts, who usually don leather jackets and devil-may-care attitudes, she’s a flat character who the screenwriter didn’t want to complicate things more than he had to. I mean, there’s already a baby to deal with. Why add the problem of a relationship?
But the most enjoyable part of the movie for me what the subplot played out between Matt’s mother and Matt’s older sister. Matt’s sister, a rare unpregnant teenage rebel, wants to continue to work at McDonalds when she graduates from high school. Matt’s mother would like her to get a college education and follow any sort of dream other than one involving fast food.
Through Matt’s baby daddy issues, however, the mother comes to the conclusion that her children’s dreams should be her dreams, even if those dreams involve flipping burgers or producing infants. The same day that the family decides to keep Matt’s baby for good, Matt’s sister is promoted to manage the flipping of burgers. Family hug!
I don’t usually say this about Lifetime Original movies, but: I thought that To Be Fat Like Me had an interesting topic and could have been interesting. A pretty, popular jock puts on a fat suit in order to explore the world of overweight people like her mother and younger brother. Perhaps by experiencing their everyday world, she would learn something about humanity and compassion and begin to understand the complex struggle with weight that many people confront daily.
Instead, well, I’m not sure. I guess instead of learning about humanity and compassion, I learned that although characters may constantly refer to the current summer season and summer classes, many people may still wear jackets and long sleeves and walk through several scenes filled with gratuitous fall foliage. I also learned that Caroline Rhea (who played the overweight and unhealthy mother character) is considered overweight and unhealthy even though she looks barely overweight and totally healthy for a middle-aged mom.
I’m also slightly concerned with the portrayal of fat people in this movie in general. We are led to believe that 1) fat people have enormous, vague candy stashes in their glove compartments and 2) shovel in cheese fires like they were oxygen and 3) eat pizza every Monday as if it were part of some sort of fat person religion. Surprisingly, all fat people are happy how they are, and simply “don’t like health food or exercising” and that people should accept that. In short, I’m pretty sure that the person who wrote this movie (and probably the person who directed this movie) have no idea what fat people think and feel. That’s not a good thing when you are trying to write a humane compassionate movie on the subject.
I’m pretty sure the movie’s main character came to the following twisted and horrifyingly simplified conclusions:
- We shouldn’t be mean to fat people – that’s mean.
- Most people are mean to fat people, except for other fat people and vaguely gay regular-sized men.
- Even though your hunky jock boyfriend loves you for who you are and loves how “real” you are, he wouldn’t be romantically interested in you if you were fat. DUH!
- Fat people are way better at math and science.
More importantly, in my long-running study of Lifetime Movie Network films, this movie allowed me to finally complete my analysis of how to tell when a LMN hunky jock boyfriend is good or evil.
- If your hunky jock boyfriend is poor but works hard to succeed, he is good. If your hunky jock boyfriend is rich and ungrateful for what he has, he is probably evil.
- If your hunky jock boyfriend does not sleep with your slutty ex-best friend even though she basically rapes him by wearing short skirts and batting her eye lashes, he is good. If he not only sleeps with her but also them plans your murder to get you out of the picture, he is probably evil.
- If your hunky jock boyfriend has a tumbling wave of shiny brunette locks, in the style of the late 80s or early 90s, he may equally either be good or evil.
- If your hunky jock boyfriend believes you were raped, even though no one else does, and then goes out of his way to bring justice to the offender, he is probably good. If your hunky jock boyfriend laughs off your rape story and then date rapes you just to teach you a lesson, he is probably evil.
- If your hunky jock boyfriend drives a classy antique sports car he paid for himself by working late night at the local nursing home, or if he fixed up said sports car during his free time at the mechanics where he works, he’s probably good. If your hunky jock boyfriend drives a classy antique sports car because he received it as a gift, and he often drives said car recklessly because he does not understand its value, he is probably evil.
It’s happened to everyone at one point or another: you marry a ruthless, deceitful bald and mustached man, fall in love and start having sex with his hunky, meticulously waxed son, and then become involved in your husband’s mysterious death. That’s the great thing about some of these Lifetime movies – sitting and watching them with my coffee on Saturday morning, I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I’m not alone and that at least one other person understands.
After a long, boring trial and two totally lame electric guitar-fueled vaguely incestuous sex scenes, the mother-stepson pair is acquitted of any wrongdoing concerning their husband/father. However, as they continue their relationship, it is slowly revealed that the stepson actually killed his own father in order to be with his stepmom. When the stepmom finds out, he gets angry with her and accidentally falls off a cliff (this is often how LMN movies are resolved), leaving him paralyzed. Roll credits.
My favorite part of the film, other than the fact that it made me feel better about all of my stepson love affair/murder incidents, was the way the hunky stepson (played by Joshua Morrow) was dressed so hunky, no matter what the situation. He is perpetually tanned and oiled and he seems to be physically unable to button a shirt any farther than his navel (when he manages to wear one at all). Even when he is in jail during the trial, his one-piece prison uniform is utterly, weirdly sexy – its sleeves are ripped off to show his bulging arms, and the front is gaping open, revealing his hard, waxed pecs. It’s as if the director wanted to audience to think, immediate family or not, who wouldn’t sleep with this guy?
The star of the film, Rachel Ward, is English and was primarily a model in the early 80s. Both of these facts become increasingly clear each time she opens her mouth. Her accent, or whatever, is the most confusing thing I’ve ever heard. One moment she sounds British, then American, then Australian, then Southern. Mostly, she sounds deaf – and you can see her struggling on camera to push words out of her mouth in some sort of consistent way.
Her accent even seemed to be an inside joke on the set – I couldn’t help but laugh out loud during a scene where Ward calls her lawyer for help after discovering her stepson was the murderer. “What’s the matter?” he asks, “You sound terrible!”
The moral of the film seems to be that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: if you marry someone controlling, ruthless, and partial to planning inter-family murders, don’t start sleeping with his son. He’s probably going to be just as partial to planning inter-family murders and then covering it up. Although he will also be considerably hunkier.
A few weeks ago, I posted a review of the Lifetime Movie Network offering Secret Cutting. It starred a young Kimberlee Peterson, who I described as one of the more talented TV movie stars I had seen, despite her strange eyebrow that always seemed to float an inch above her other – making her look a little intrigued all of the time.
Days later, I received a letter from her manager/lawyer/agent person, asking me to take the picture of Kimberlee down, which was completely understandable. Hours after that, I got an email and blog post from Kimberlee herself.
Now, at this point I was feeling bad – when you write about people in the limelight, you don’t think about them quite as real people, and you certainly don’t stop to think about hurting their feelings. I mean, I have way more problems than a wayward eyebrow; it’s just that no one really cares enough about me to talk about them. I held my breath and opened the email.
Surprisingly, Kimberlee had written me a funny, awesome response about how she never quite understood why people were so interested in her eyebrow, that seven years after Secret Cutting it was a little thinner, but that it was still going strong. It’s who I am, she wrote, take it or leave it. I just wish people would review my acting instead of it… Often I tell people the Rock is my daddy. She also wrote endearingly about her acting career and her relationship with Lifetime movies. She signed it Kimberlee and The Brow.
The whole thing threw me off balance – she was so confident and responded to my silly criticism with humor, self-assuredness, and tact. It made me think about how personally I take criticism and how terribly I often respond to it – I mostly get defensive and sad. Perhaps, though, Kimberlee’s attitude is what it takes to make it as a successful working actress in a world where it seems like everyone wants to be a successful working actress (she has appeared in a ton of movies and a ton of television shows - Charmed, West Wing, and Boston Public to name a few recent ones). It’s a good lesson: to respond to uncool things with pure, utter coolness.
In any case, Kimberlee and I got to talking, and she answered a few questions for me about what it’s like to work on Lifetime movies and to be an actress in general.
Me: How did you get into acting, and what are you working on now?
Kim: When I was twelve I saw one of those oh-so-cheesy commercials for Barbizon, a school for acting and modeling. I called the agency, set up an appointment, and was very lucky that my parents went along with it. From there I auditioned for a competition called IMTA out in LA (you would be surprised how many stars got their start at this thing) and I got chosen to participate. I competed with thousands of other kids who also had stars in their eyes, placed in a few categories, and was lucky enough to meet my managers, who I am still with today.
At the moment I am auditioning and praying for that next gig. Last week I was on hold for a guest star on that new show K-Ville, but found out yesterday that I didn’t get it. Hollywood is an emotional roller coaster. The lows are really low, but man when you are blessed to be working, you are high as a kite. That little taste of success makes the hard times worth it.
Me: Do you have any TV appearances coming up that our readers should watch for?
Kim: I am lucky that a lot of the shows I’ve done re-air a lot. Check your Tivo’s!
Me: What is it like working on a movie set like Secret Cutting? Is it fun, serious, a little of both?
Kim: All of the above. That was such a magical time. Anytime you get to film on location it adds something special. For that time it’s like the whole cast and crew are in their own little world, a little break from reality. Obviously the topic of the movie was very serious. But for me those are the roles that allow me to release the fear, hurt, pain or any other emotion that I have going on at that point in my life. But as soon as the camera stops, the laughter begins. Being on set is wonderful. I have been blessed that I have had the chance to work with some amazing people. I have had such a good time doing it.
Me: What are you hobbies outside of your job? What things are most important to you?
Kim: I am a pretty average person. I love to go to movies, experience good food, travel, read, meditate and learn. This world has so much to offer and I want it all! Family above all is the most important. Without that, for me, you have nothing. Life has no meaning unless you get the chance to share it with those you love.
Me: What’s the most challenging part about your career?
Kim: It’s that roller coaster I was talking about. This is a tough business, and you would think that 14 years later it would be easier for me, but it’s not. The rejection still hurts the same as it did my first year here. And that feeling of “oh this is it, I am so close…..” and then you get knocked on your ass. It’s a very humbling business. The criticism is hard too. The bashing my eyebrow takes is brutal. But it comes with the territory. There is always going to be someone out there who wants to tear you down, but that’s life in general. It’s finding a way to balance it all and keep your head up that’s important.
Me: What has been your favorite project to work on?
Kim: I did a film called Primal Force. We filmed it in Mexico and had the greatest cast and crew. It was a wonderfully cheesy UPN film about man-eating baboons…..and cue the laughter……but it was a thrilling experience. The director has been very good to me over the years and brought me in for other projects. We have worked together three times now and hopefully more to come. It was one of those “somebody pinch me I’m dreaming,” experiences. I thrived on that set. Simply put, I felt ALIVE.
There’s something truly magical about waking up early on Saturday morning, pulling on some sweatpants, eating a piece of cold leftover pizza, and turning on the Lifetime Movie Network. This week’s offering was Maternal Instincts – a Delta Burke vehicle in which she plays a woman who descends into madness after a hysterectomy. After accidentally killing her husband during a rage a few days after the operation (which a was necessary procedure to remove cancer) Burke plots to ruin the life of (and steal the future baby of) the pregnant doctor who gave her the operation. You might even say she’s a woman who is designing a plan to kill the doctor who wronged her.
I found this movie to be simply baffling – I actually looked it up on the Internet Movie Database to see if it was a spoof of a physiological thriller or if it was a real, actual psychological thriller. What I found was a bunch of other confused people posting reviews from around the world who also couldn’t tell if it was a serious film or a comedy. No one could offer anything conclusive. I – I – I still don’t know. I really just don’t know.
I could tell you about the scene in which Burke crazily breaks the tips of a bunch of freshly sharpened pencils, one after another, over and over again. Or I could tell you how, even though having a hysterectomy was a terrible blow to her emotional state, the sudden, violent death of her husband didn’t seem to bother her or any other character in the movie, not even for a single scene. Or I could tell you about how she throws a temper tantrum in a bathroom stall that could have easily won whatever the opposite of an Oscar is. Or I could tell you about the climactic final scene, in which Delta Burke and the doctor she hates duel with giant, industrial wrenches in the hospital boiler room.
Or, perhaps I could tell you that throughout the entire movie, Burke is wearing pieces from her popular clothing line, Delta Burke Design.
I don’t know. If it is a spoof – if everyone on set had a good time making it and the writers and the director really got a kick out of creating this film – then I think it’s wonderful. If this was a serious effort, though, if Burke, say, spent six months in a psychiatric ward in order to find her character’s emotional center and then stayed in character even during meal breaks and off set, then I still think it’s wonderful. Just in a different way.