2022 In Review: The Best of Lifetime

First off, my apologies for being so late in finishing up my look at the best of 2022!  I’ve still got three categories to go, so let’s get to it by taking a look at the best of Lifetime!

As chaotic as 2022 may have been, one thing remained unchanged!  Lifetime provided me with both a lot of entertainment and a lot to think about!  Not only did it embrace the melodrama with films like Deadly Yoga Retreat but it also sensitively dramatized the real-life tragedies of The Gabby Petito Story and Dirty Little Secret.  Below, you’ll find my picks for the best Lifetime films and performances of the past year!

(For my previous best of Lifetime picks, click on the links: 20142015201620172018, 2019, 2020, and 2021!)

Best Picture: The Gabby Petito Story

Best Director: Thora Birch for The Gabby Petito Story

Best Actress: Melissa Joan Hart in Dirty Little Secret

Best Actor:  Jonathan Bennett in Deadly Yoga Retreat

Best Supporting Actress:  Maja Vujicic in Mommy’s Little Star

Best Supporting Actor:  Roderick McNeil in Mommy’s Little Star

Best Screenplay: Dirty Little Secret

Lisa Marie’s 2022 In Review:

  1. 16 Worst Movies
  2. 10 Favorite Songs
  3. 10 Top Non-Fiction Books
  4. Lisa Marie’s Favorite Novels

What Lisa Marie and Megan Watched Last Night #225: Mommy’s Little Star (dir by Curtis Crawford)

Last night, my sister Megan and I watched Mommy’s Little Star on the Lifetime Movie Network!

Why Were We Watching It?

For the past week and a half, I’ve been visiting my sister Megan and her family.  This is kind of our holiday tradition.  Everyone gets together for Christmas and then, from Christmas Day to New Year, Megan and I catch up and bond and talk about how we’re feeling about the past year and what we’re hoping to get out of the upcoming year.  Plus, we watch a lot of TV and movies!

I’ve always loved watching movies with my family and I especially love Lifetime movies.  (Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten to watch as much Lifetime as usual this year.)  So, when I saw that the Lifetime Movie Network was broadcasting something called Mommy’s Little Star, I literally fell on my knees and begged Megan to stay up and watch it with me.

What Was It About?

12 year-old Olivia (Maja Vujicic) thinks that she’s found a way bring her parents back together.  She’ll become a social media star by posting dancing videos online.  If she can get her mother, Lauren (Rebecca Amzallag), to appear in the videos with her, she’ll become an even bigger star and maybe even win a contest because people love to watch young influencers dance with their moms.

Lauren’s new boyfriend, Aiden (Roderick McNeil), offers to act as Olivia’s agent and to guide her to social media stardom.  Olivia is excited but soon, she becomes so addicted to being popular online that she starts neglect her friends, her schoolwork, and her well-meaning but strict nanny.  Meanwhile, Aiden is actually a con artist who is willing to go to any lengths, including murder!, to get what he wants.

What Worked?

I always enjoy a good Lifetime moral panic film.  This film had the typical Lifetime plot of the handsome but sinister man who was trying to take a daughter away from her loving parents but, to that, it also added a fear that I imagine many parents have, the fear of what their children might be doing online.  One thing that both Olivia’s mom and her father (played by David Lafontaine) had in common is that neither one of them was really sure what it was that Olivia was getting so excited about and watching them, I was reminded of my aunt’s reaction when I first tried to explain to her what Twitter was.  The film suggested that all of the trouble that Olivia and her family go through is worth it because it encourages Olivia to eventually take a break from social media.  It’s all rather silly and campy but that’s what makes Lifetime movies so much fun.

I really enjoyed Roderick McNeil’s performance as Aiden.  He had the whole charming sociopath act down to perfection.

What Did Not Work?

The film missed an opportunity by not having Olivia herself turn evil in her attempts to win the big contest.  Maybe Lifetime had already met their quota for murderous children by the time they got around to Mommy’s Little Star.

“OMG!  Just like me!” Moments

Right after my parents divorced, I had a fantasy that lasted for about two years where they would both come to see me performing with the New York City Ballet and they would be so moved by my dancing that they would get back together.  That never happened, of course, but still, I could relate to what Olivia was trying to do even if I didn’t quite agree with her methods.

Both Megan and I agreed that Rebecca Amzallag, who did a great job playing Olivia’s mother, looked just like our friend Lea so that was kind of neat.  We spent a lot of the film asking ourselves, “Is that what Lea would do?”

Lessons Learned

Social media is evil!

Cleaning out the DVR: Dirty Little Secret (dir by Linda-Lisa Hayter)

On the outside, Joanna (Melissa John Hart) and her 17 year-old daughter, Lucy (Lizzie Boys), seem like they have a good life.

Joanna is a nurse who is beloved by both her patients and her co-workers.  She works hard and she often worries about money but she is also responsible for saving lives.  One of her former patients, Drew (Edward Foy), has even fallen in love with her and is pursuing a relationship with her.  Drew is nice, considerate, and a financially stable.  He seems like he would be anyone’s dream but Joanna is hesitant about getting close to him or anyone else.

Lucy is a smart student and a talented artist and her guidance counselor thinks that she should apply to F.I.T. in New York City.  When Lucy says that she’s not sure that she could afford it, she is assured that she could probably get a scholarship or a grant.  Lucy has a close friend named Kaylie (Pavia Sidhu) and a potential boyfriend named Josh (Wern Lee) and she should be looking forward to a great future.  Instead, she’s spending all of her time making up excuses to keep people from coming by her house.

Joanna and Lucy share a secret.  Joanna is a compulsive hoarder.  Her house is so cluttered that she can’t find a thing.  While Joanna watches home improvement shows and talks about all of her plans for the future, Lucy struggles to find room to sleep.  Lucy is forced to take showers at school because Joanna couldn’t find the water bill.  When Lucy tries to secretly throw away some bubble wrap, Joanna catches her and yells, “What about if I want to send gifts!?”  The clutter is so terrible that Joanna is constantly struggling with her asthma.

It easy to cast Joanna as the villain here but, as the film makes clear, both she and Lucy have been abandoned by the rest of their family.  Joanna’s husband walked out years ago.  Lucy’s older sister, Sara (Samantha Hodhod), refuses to come by the house or even talk to Joanna but, at the same time, she expects Lucy to put all of her plans on hold so that she can take care of their mother.  Everyone has given up on Joanna but Lucy is convinced that she can somehow fix things.  It ultimately leads to tragedy and leaves the audience wondering if anyone in the family ever really had a chance.

This is one dark Lifetime movie.

I have to admit that, though I’m compulsively clean and organized, I always have a bit of sympathy for hoarders.  When you grow up in an unstable household, it’s easy to put a lot of importance in the things that you own because those are the thing that aren’t going to abandon you.  Even the simplest or most mundane items can come to represent either a good memory or hope for a better future.  I’ve seen a few episodes of Hoarders and I always despise the family members who yell at the hoarder for not throwing stuff out.  What the people yelling don’t understand is that those possessions are often the only source of comfort and stability that a hoarder has.  Throwing stuff away means throwing away memories and hope.  (The other reason why I don’t like it when people yell on Hoarders is because they’re usually only yelling to show off for the cameras.  People will ignore a problem for years and then try to play the hero as soon as a television crew shows up.)   Myself, I have a sentimental attachment to just about everything I own.  Fortunately, I also have a storage unit.  

Melissa Joan Hart does a good job playing Joanna, who alternates between pretending that everything is normal and flying into a rage whenever she can’t find something in the house.  Lizzie Boys is also effective as Lucy, who has been unfairly burdened with not only protecting the family’s secrets but also with taking care of her mother.  At the end of the movie, it’s obvious that both characters deserved to be treated better than they were.  Both characters sacrifice their chances for happiness in order to keep the family secrets.  It makes for an effective and sad Lifetime film, one that will hopefully inspire a little compassion for not only the hoarders but also the people who try to take care of them.

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night #224: Ice Road Killer (dir by Max McGuire)

Last night, I watched Ice Road Killer on the Lifetime Movie Network!

Why Was I Watching It?

It had been a while since I had last watched a Lifetime movie and, with this year soon to come to a close, I figured that last night would be a good time to start catching up.

What Was It About?

While on her way to pick up her daughter from college, Helen (Sarah Allen) nearly runs over a young woman named Carly (Zoe Belkin).  Carly claims that she’s stranded.  Because the roads are icy and a heavy snow is falling, Helen agrees to give Carly a ride to wherever Carly is going.  Needless to say, Helen’s daughter, Lauren (Erica Anderson), is not amused.

Of course, what Helen doesn’t realize is that Carly and her boyfriend, Boyd (Connor McMahon), are planning on robbing her.  But what Carly and Boyd don’t realize is that they are being followed by a psycho trucker (Michael Swatton), who is looking for revenge.  

What Worked?

For a Lifetime film, Ice Road Killer had some effectively scary moments and some creepy locations.  (The motel where Helen, Lauren, and Carly initially attempted to spend the night was memorably run-down and it brought back some memories of my own childhood road trips.)  The ice, the snow, and the howling wind all added up to create an otherworldly atmosphere and Christopher Guglick’s original score was appropriately ominous.  

Michael Swatton was wonderfully creepy as the psycho trucker.

What Did Not Work?

A huge issue that I had was that Carly and Boyd’s robbery scheme never made sense to me.  Instead of just robbing Helen when she first stopped to pick up Carly, Boyd instead followed behind Helen and Carly while they drove down the icy road.  If you’re going to rob a random driver, it seems like it would make more sense to just do it and make a run for it instead of dragging it all out.

Another issue that I had was with the idea that anyone, in the year 2022, would actually pick up a hitchhiker, especially someone like Helen who had reason to not trust people in general.  I get that the weather was bad but still, it seems like a stretch that Helen would give Carly a ride, arrange for Carly to spend the night in a motel with Helen and her daughter, and then leave Carly — a total stranger — alone with the $500 that Helen could not afford to lose. 

You always have to be willing to suspend your disbelief when it comes to Lifetime films, that’s usually a part of the fun.  This film just asked you to suspend it even more than usual.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

I am a fairly compassionate person and I do believe in helping those in need but there’s no way in Hell that I would ever pick up a hitchhiker, regardless of how bad the weather conditions are.  If I see a person stranded on the side of the road, I might feel bad for them but I’m still not going to let them get in my car.  I might encourage someone driving behind me to pick them up but I’ve seen too many horror films to make that mistake myself.  So, I couldn’t relate to that part of the film.

However, I also don’t drive well in cold weather.  When Helen ran her car off the icy road and nearly ran over Carly, I could totally relate to that.

Lessons Learned

Don’t pick up hitchhikers and by nice to truck drivers!

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.

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night #220: Deadly Yoga Retreat (dir by Brian Herzlinger)

Last night, I watched the Lifetime film, Deadly Yoga Retreat!

Why Was I Watching It?

I watched this film for a number of reasons.  First off, yoga has been on my mind lately because, over the past two weeks, I have managed to strain my back not once but twice!  My mom also had trouble with her back and she was a big believer in yoga as something more than just an excuse to wear a cute outfit.  Myself, I have to admit that the outfit has always been the main appeal to me.

Secondly, the film was on Lifetime and it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to sit down and watch a good Lifetime film.

Third, I wanted an excuse to do one of my What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night reviews.  I have fun writing them.

What Was It About?

Remy Morrow (Jonathan Bennett) runs the most exclusive and demanding yoga retreat out there.  He expects you to show up on time.  He expects you to take yoga seriously.  He expects you to take him seriously.  If you don’t take him seriously, he’ll kick you out of the group.  And, if that’s not enough to get rid of you, he’ll just kill you.  Killing people over yoga?  That may sound extreme but Remy’s an extreme guy.

Isabella (Danielle C. Ryan) may just be planning on using the yoga retreat as a way to get away from her struggling marriage but she’s about to discover that Remy has his own plans for her and the other students.

What Worked?

Like many recent Lifetime film, Deadly Yoga Retreat takes a deliberately campy approach to its story.  It’s not meant to be taken seriously and Jonathan Bennett brings exactly the right sensibility to his performance as Remy, playing him as being the unhinged yoga instructor from Hell.  There’s not a single subtle moment to be found in Bennett’s performance but this isn’t a film that calls for subtlety.  This is a film that calls for someone willing to totally embrace the melodrama and go over the the top and, as anyone who saw him on Celebrity Big Brother can tell you, Bennett is certainly willing to do that.  Bennett’s approach was nicely balanced by Danielle C. Ryan, who was likable as Isabella.

When you sit down to watch a film called Deadly Yoga Retreat, you know what you’re getting into.  If there’s anything that I don’t have much use for, it’s people who act all offended or shocked that a movie like this would turn out to be deliberately campy and kitschy.  This is a Lifetime film and it’s about a psychotic yoga instructor.  You knew what you were getting into when you saw the title.  The title promises attractive people in cute outfits doing dangerous and sexy things in a lovely, beach-filled location.  Here’s the important thing: Deadly Yoga Retreat delivers exactly what it promised.

What Did Not Work?

As far as I’m concerned it all worked.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

My best friend Evelyn and I occasionally went to a yoga class when we were in college.  The instructor was intense, though not murderous.  He always used to say stuff like, “Yoga is for lovers” and “This weekend should be all about you, yoga and a lover.”  Actually, he was pretty  creepy.  Anyway, he always used to get annoyed because we would giggle through his class but I don’t think he ever killed anyone.

Lessons Learned

Don’t say “Namaste” unless you mean it.

Lifetime Film Review: The Wrong Blind Date (dir by David DeCoteau)

“Looks like he was the wrong blind date!”

You tell them, Vivica A. Fox!

The Wrong Blind Date is the latest of the Lifetime “Wrong” films.  Like all of the “Wrong” films, it was directed by David DeCoteau and it features Vivica A. Fox delivering the film’s title.  It may seem somewhat silly to those who don’t regularly watch these films but, if you’re a fan of the “Wrong” series, you will literally sit through just about anything just for the chance to hear Vivica A. Fox say the movie’s name.  The film’s realize this too.  Lifetime films, at their best, are very self-aware.  None are as self-aware as the “Wrong” films.

In this one, Fox has a supporting role.  She plays Beth, who works as a therapist.  One of her patients is Laura (Meredith Thomas).  Laura has got a lot to deal with.  Her daughter, Hannah (Sofia Masson), has just started going to college and is dating Noah (Rainer Dawn).  Laura and her friend, Angela (Lesli Kay), are trying to launch their own design firm.  Laura is also in the process of getting a divorce from her husband, an abusive ex-cop named Michael (Clark Moore).  Michael is controlling and temperamental and he’s also determined to convince Laura not to go through with the divorce.

When Laura puts her profile on a dating website, she’s shocked by the number of replies that she gets.  One of those replies is from Kevin (Matthew Pohlkamp).  Kevin is handsome and charming and he lives in Beverly Hills.  He lists his job as investment banking.  Kevin has money and he’s so interested in Laura that he even finds a way to contact her after she deletes her dating profile!  At first, Laura thinks that Kevin’s behavior is a little stalkerish but then she agrees to go on one date with him.  And that one date leads to another and then another and then….

But wait a minute!  This is a Lifetime film!  Even more importantly, this is a “Wrong” film.  Those of us who have spent years viewing these movies know better than to trust any perfect man who claims to be wealthy.  Laura may not realize that there’s obviously something sinister about Kevin but we do!  Unfortunately, Laura is so used to her husband acting like a jerk that she’s overly impressed when Kevin does things like refuse to pick a fight with an obnoxious drunk.  It’s only after Laura leaves that Kevin returns to the bar and beats the man up.

Yes, Kevin has some problems.  He’s the wrong blind date.  And it soon becomes apparent that he’s lying about who he is, where he lives, and what he even does for a living.  It’s not a spoiler to tell you that Michael has hired Kevin to fool his wife, all as a part of a rather silly plan to convince Laura to take him back.  But when Kevin starts to become obsessed with Laura, not even Michael can stand in his way.

These films are predictable but fun.  We all know better than to trust Kevin but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch as Hannah vainly tries to convince her mother that she needs to do a little more research into her new boyfriend’s background.  And, of course, there’s the murders.  There’s always a murder or two in a Lifetime film.  Mereidth Thomas and Sofia Masson are convincing as mother and daughter and Matthew Pohlkamp is credible whether being charming or unhinged.  And, of course, Vivica A. Fox says the name of the movie.  It’s Lifetime, what’s not to enjoy?

2021 In Review: The Best of Lifetime

As chaotic as 2021 may have been, one thing remained unchanged!  Lifetime provided me with a lot of entertainment!  Below, you’ll find my picks for the best Lifetime films and performances of the past year!

(For my previous best of Lifetime picks, click on the links: 20142015201620172018, 2019, and 2020!)

Best Picture: Just What The Doctor Ordered

Best Director: Jeff Hare for Just What The Doctor Ordered

Best Actor: Eric Roberts in Just What The Doctor Ordered

Best Actress: Lauren Lee Smith in Doomsday Mom: The Lori Vallow Story

Best Supporting Actor: Jonathan Stoddard in The Wrong Prince Charming

Best Supporting Actress: Joely Fisher in Girl In The Basement

Best Screenplay: Just What The Doctor Ordered

Lisa Marie’s 2021 In Review:

  1. 10 Worst Films
  2. 10 Favorite Songs
  3. 10 Top Non-Fiction Books
  4. 10 Top Novels

Lifetime Film Review: Sisters For Life (dir by Anna Elizabeth James)

It’s pledge week!

Bailee (Briana Fermia) really wants to join the college’s nicest sorority and she feels that she established a real connection with Jana (Maddison Bullock) when she interviewed to be selected for one of the opening spots.  Unfortunately, connection or not, there’s no room for Baileee because a legacy named Cori (Taylor Fono) has also applied.  Cori’s mom was in the sorority.  Cori’s sister was in the sorority.  Therefore, Cori gets to be in the sorority!  Yay!  College traditions are the best!

Bailee confronts Jana about how unfair it is that she wasn’t invited to join the sorority.  Jana feels guilty but what can she do?  There’s just no space.  But then, one night, Cori is attacked on campus.  Due to her injuries, Cori has to withdraw from the college and therefore the sorority.  Who can take Cori’s place?  Jana has a suggestion!

Bailee is now in the sorority and it soon turns out that she’s totally clingy and kind of psychotic.  She takes the whole idea of “sisters for life” very seriously and Bailee fully expects that Jana will be her sister for life.  Jana, meanwhile, is like, “This is my senior year, I want to hang out with my boyfriend, and I want to finish up my science project so I can have a career once I graduate.”  Soon, the other sorority sisters are getting drugged, framed, and attacked.  Even Jana’s boyfriend gets attacked in the shower!  Could it all somehow be connected to Bailee?

Of course it’s all connected to Bailee!  The film wastes no time in making it clear that Bailee is not to be trusted.  That’s the way Lifetime films work.  Anyone who shows up out of nowhere and suddenly starts demanding that you be her sister for life is going to turn out to be totally unhinged.  They always start out as slightly needy but seemingly sweet but, by the time the second commercial break rolls around, they’ve already put at least one person in the hospital or maybe even worse.  Some people will go to outrageous lengths to have a friend.

Anyway, Sisters for Life was a fun, if slightly predictable, Lifetime film.  As I’ve said in the past, though, the predictability is kind of the point.  Familiarity is one reason why Lifetime movies are so much fun to watch.  We’re always a few steps ahead of everyone else in the movie.  Towards the end of the film, one character announces, “You’re the meanest sister that I’ve ever had!” with a totally straight face and if you can’t appreciate the self-awareness behind a line like that than Lifetime films just aren’t for you.

Lifetime Film Review: Abduction Runs In The Family (dir by Jeff Hare)

If abduction runs in you family, it might be time to get a new family.

Or it might just be time to make sure that you’re really, really good at it because, if abduction is the family business, you don’t want to be embarrassed at the next family reunion.

Abduction Runs In The Family in not only an ominous way to describe your relations but it’s also the title of a Lifetime movie.  It stars Jessica Morris as Alyssa.  When she was a child, Alyssa was abducted by a man named Miles (James Hyde).  Miles did not abuse or deliberately harm Alyssa.  Instead, he wanted a replacement for his daughter, Sophie and, when he abducted her, he treated her as if she was his own daughter.  Alyssa was eventually rescued and Miles was sent to prison.  Now, years later, Alyssa has become famous as a result of talking and writing about how she was not only kidnapped but how she also eventually forgave Miles for what he did.  As the movie begins, Miles is about to get out of prison and Alyssa has a book coming out about her experience.  Finally, life is providing a chance for both of them to get on with their lives.  Miles, of course, has been given a restraining order as a condition of his parole.  He’s not to go anywhere near Alyssa or her daughter, Emma.

But then …. Emma disappears!

Emma’s been abducted and Miles is Alyssa’s number one suspect.  However, Miles has an alibi for the entire afternoon and he insists that he did not kidnap Emma.  If Miles didn’t do it, who did?  Can Alyssa rescue Emma with the help of the man who abducted Alyssa so many years ago?

Abduction Runs In The Family is an interesting Lifetime film, largely because it takes an unexpected approach to the relationship between Alyssa and Miles.  Alyssa insists that, after kidnapping her, Miles only treated her with kindness and fatherly love and the film keeps you guessing as to whether Alyssa’s memories are correct or if she’s still suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.  Miles is creepy, largely due to his past, and yet he still seems to be sincere in his desire to move on from his previous actions.  It leads to an interesting dynamic between the two characters, who are both well-played by Morris and Hyde.

Unfortunately, the solution to the mystery itself isn’t particularly satisfying.  This is one of those Lifetime mysteries where the film overall would have benefitted from a few more suspects because once you eliminate one them, there’s pretty much only one other person left.  And, unfortunately, a good deal of the film’s conclusion rests on the guilty party leaving a very obvious clue out in the open for everyone to see.

All that said, this is still a compelling Lifetime film, one that takes its story in some unexpected directions.  The final scene between Morris and Hyde is nicely acted and written.  This is definitely a Lifetime film to keep an eye out for.