Lifetime Film Review: The Gabby Petito Story (dir by Thora Birch)


Last night, when I watched The Gabby Petito Story on Lifetime, my inital reaction was to think that it was a bit gauche just how quickly Lifetime had turned the story of Petito’s murder into a movie.

“Wow, I thought, this only happened a few months ago and they’ve already turned it into a movie?”

However, I then took a look at Gabby’s Wikipedia page and I discovered that it has actually been over a year since Gabby Petito disappeared while driving across the country with her fiancée Brian Laundrie.  It has been over a year since her family frantically asked that anyone with information come forward.  It has been over a year since the release of the footage of the police talking to a distraught Gabby Petito while Brian laughed about the situation on the other side of their van.  It has been over a year since Brian himself vanished.  It has been over a year since Gabby’s remains were found and the coroner confirmed that she had indeed been choked to death.  And it’s been over a year since Laundrie’s skeletal remains were found, along with a note in which he confessed to killing Gabby.

It’s been over a year but it seems like it was just yesterday.  That’s how invested many of us became in the search for Gabby Petito and that’s how fresh our anger over what happened remains.  Why did Gabby Petito’s disappearance capture the public imagination in a way that so many other disappearances haven’t?  Some claim that it’s because Gabby was young, pretty, and white and that might be the case with some people.  But, for many of us, the reason why Gabby’s disappearance captured our imagination is because every woman has known at least one man like Brian Laundrie, the self-declared nice guy who is actually controlling, manipulative, and mentally (and often physically) abusive.  We watched the footage of Gabby telling the police that Brian’s anger was all her fault because “I just get so OCD” and we realized that the same thing could have just as easily happened to us.  Brian hit Gabby because she asked him to not track dirt and mud into the van in which they were going to spend the next few months living.  And, when the police showed up to ask what was going on, she blamed herself.  No one was there to save Gabby and we all felt that if we had found ourselves in the same situation that there would not have been anyone there to save us either.

The Gabby Petito Story stars Skyler Samuels as Gabby and Evan Hall as Brian Laundrie.  It follows them from the moment that their relationship began and we watch as Brian goes from being endearingly awkward to being an out-of-control monster, one who hides behind his anxiety disorder and his nerdy persona.  It’s not always easy to watch, as the film does a good job of showing how an abusive relationship develops and also how it will inevitably end.  It’s difficult to be comfortable with any show that uses a true life tragedy to generate ratings (and knowing that Lifetime was probably started planning the film even while Gabby was still missing doesn’t help) but The Gabby Petito Story is well-acted by Samuels and Hall and it’s well-directed by Thora Birch, who also plays Gabby’s mother.  If nothing else, it shows why so many of us became obsessed with Gabby’s disappearance and why her tragic fate continues to haunt us a year later.

2 responses to “Lifetime Film Review: The Gabby Petito Story (dir by Thora Birch)

  1. I was most blown away by how Gabby and Brian’s deaths played out at the end, never saw it coming. Yet, hope it answers a lot of questions. And to think Thora Birch went from playing Dani in Hocus Pocus to director of this film.Kudos to her

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  2. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 9/26/22 — 10/2/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

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