Cleaning Out The DVR: New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell (dir by Stephen Tolkin)


(Lisa is not just watching horror movies!  She is also trying to clean out her DVR!  She has got over 200 movies that she needs to watch before January 1st!  Will she make it?  Keep checking here to find out!  She recorded New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell off of Lifetime on April 23rd!)

“That is some hard wood.”

— Joyce Mitchell (Penelope Ann Miller) in New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell (2017)

Why would Joyce Mitchell, a middle-aged wife and mother, help two convicted murderers escape from a prison in upstate New York?

That was the question that everyone was asking in 2015, even though everyone already knew what the answer probably was.  (Bad boys are sexy.  Murderers are the ultimate bad boys.  Plus, Joyce Mitchell appeared to be a little bit crazy and a little bit stupid.)  After breaking out of Clinton Correctional Facility, both Richard Matt and David Sweat spent several weeks on the run while Joyce Mitchell was briefly both the most hated and the most ridiculed woman in America.  Interestingly, Joyce Mitchell was not the only prison employee to help out the two convicts.  She was just the only woman.

During the manhunt for Sweat and Matt, I did what I usually do.  I made a joke.  I can’t even remember what the joke was but I do remember that it really ticked off some random people on twitter.  Seriously, the way these randos reacted, you would think that I was the one who had helped two killers to escape from prison.

“Certain things are not funny!” they shouted, “CERTAIN THINGS YOU DO NOT JOKE ABOUT!”

(Seriously, can you believe that people could actually get that mad at little old me?  What is this world coming to?)

Anyway, I have to wonder if any of those self-righteous losers watched New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell and, if they did, how they reacted to it.  New York Prison Break may sound like a standard Lifetime true crime film but it takes a satiric approach to the material.  If certain people found my relatively innocuous comments to be triggering, I can only imagine how they reacted to a made-for-TV movie that opened with a bloody recreation of Matt and Sweat’s crimes and then segued to a scene of Joyce making breakfast while listening to a trashy romance novel on tape.

As played by Penelope Ann Miller, Joyce is somehow sympathetic, pathetic, annoying, and frightening, all at the same time.  She has a nice house with a perfect kitchen and a husband, Lyle (Daniel Roebuck), who is utterly clueless as to how bored and dissatisfied Joyce has become with her very safe life.  It leaves her open to being manipulated by both David Sweat (Joe Anderson) and Richard Matt (Myk Watford), both of whom drew her into aiding their escape by feigning a romantic interest in her.  While they both encourage Joyce to fantasize about running off with them and starting a new life in Mexico, Lyle’s idea of adventure is to go out for Chinese food.  For Joyce, helping Sweat and Matt escape is like a real-life version of one of her novels.

Though it’s a true story, it’s also a very absurd story.  New York Prison Break emphasizes the strangeness of it all.  Scenes of Joyce and Lyle discussing the ins and outs of fabric softener are mixed with scenes of Sweat and Matt bickering over whether they should go to Canada or to Mexico.  Joyce’s desperate attempts to cover up her own involvement in the escape are contrasted with Sweat and Matt bonding outside of the prison.  Joyce may have been in love with both of them but, as the film makes clear, Sweat and Matt only loved each other.  And, as it eventually turns out, they didn’t even love each other that much…

“Mrs. Mitchell,” one detective asks, “you knew these men murdered and tortured a man and you gave them the means to escape from prison?”

“Everyone says I’m too nice,” Joyce explains.

New York Prison Break is a superior and well-made Lifetime film, distinguished by a quartet of strong performances.  Penelope Ann Miller, Daniel Roebuck, Joe Anderson, and Myk Watford are all at their best and it makes for very compelling viewing.

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