Film Review: Mother, May I Sleep With Danger (dir by Melanie Aitkenhead)


Earlier tonight, I turned over to Lifetime and I watched the much hyped remake of Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?  Having watched, what can I say about it?


Seriously, I had such high hopes.  My hopes for this film were almost as high as I was the day I graduated from high school.  That’s pretty freaking high!

And really, can you blame me?  First off, the film was a remake of one of my favorite Lifetime films.  And, while I usually hate remakes, the original Mother, May I Sleep With Danger was so over-the-top and melodramatic that it practically demanded a Deadly Adoption-style remake.  The idea of mixing the original’s stalker plot with lesbian vampires just sounded so promising!  And, on top of that, James Franco was involved!

Up until I saw the movie tonight, I was under the assumption that James Franco would actually be directing the remake.  Well, he didn’t.  Mother, May I Sleep With Danger was directed by Melanie Aitkenhead and, considering that this was her feature debut, she actually did a pretty good job.  The film is full of atmospheric shots and Aitkenhead gets a surprising amount of mileage out of simply showing the movie’s vampires moving across the screen in slow motion.

Instead of direcing, James Franco served as executive producer and is credited with coming up with the film’s “original story.”  (The actual screenplay is credited to Amber Coney, who also plays one of the vampires.)  Franco also plays a theater professor who directs a production of Macbeth.  In his production, Macbeth is played by a woman and you know what?  That’s a great idea!  In fact, there were times that I found myself thinking that, if I had to choose between watching Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? and James Franco’s Macbeth, I would definitely pick Macbeth.

As for the rest of the film — well, it actually has absolutely nothing in common with the original Mother, May I Sleep With Danger.  The original film’s stars — Tori Spelling and Ivan Sergei — both show up in different roles but it would have been a lot more interesting if they had been playing the same roles.  What if Sergei’s psycho stalker actually didn’t drown at the end of the original and ended up teaching a college class on Victorian literature?  And what if his favorite student just happened to be the daughter of his former obsession (played, of course, by Tori Spelling)?  That would have been interesting!  Instead, Sergei is playing just any professor and Spelling is playing just any mother.

The majority of the film deals with Spelling’s daughter, Leah (Leila George), attempting to work up the courage to tell her mom that 1) she’s a lesbian and 2) she has a new girlfriend, named Pearl (Emily Meade).  What Leah doesn’t know is that Pearl is actually a vampire and is being pressured by her blood-sucking friends to turn Leah into a vampire too.  As well, nerdy and creepy Bob (Nick Eversman) has an unrequited crush on Leah.  When Bob discovers that Leah has a girlfriend, he starts plotting to break them up.

And there’s a lot that I liked about Mother, May I Sleep With Danger.  I liked that the film, unlike a few other Lifetime films that I’ve seen, was unapologetic about being sex positive.  I liked that the film presented an unambigiously positive portrayal of a same-sex couple.  I liked that the vampires were all stylish and enjoyed hanging out in cemeteries.  The film’s best scenes featured the vampires infiltrating frat parties and feeding on the date rapists within.  These were hugely satisfying scenes and I would have been happy if the entire movie had just been scene after scene of vampires attacking Brock Turner.

But despite all that worked about the movie, Mother, May I Sleep With Danger left me feeling disappointed.  After all the hype and the raised expectations and the commercials promising us a masterpiece from “the twisted mind of James Franco,” there was really no way not to be disappointed by the final product.  Unlike last year’s A Deadly Adoption, Mother, May I Sleep With Danger never managed to establish a consistent tone.  It didn’t seem to be sure whether it wanted to be a comedy, a drama, a horror film, or an elaborate send-up of the Lifetime aesthetic.  Whereas A Deadly Adoption was clearly a labor of snarky love, I couldn’t help but feel that Mother, May I Sleep With Danger had probably been made by people who don’t particularly like Lifetime films.  As such, it worked as neither an homage nor a parody.  Instead, it was just another movie about vampires and not a particularly original one at that.

And, hey, I like movies about vampires!  I’ve seen a few hundred of them.  I’ve certainly seen enough to know that Mother, May I Sleep With Danger didn’t bring anything new to the genre.

That said, I still love James Franco!  Seriously, how can’t I?


Film Review: Wild (dir by Jean-Marc Vallee)


Wild opens with Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon) standing on the edge of a cliff.  She has been hiking for days and, because her hiking boots are too small, she’s limping and in a great  deal of pain.  She takes off a boot and a sock and stares at her bloody big toe.  With trembling fingers, she removes what is left of her big toenail.  And then, she throws her boot over the edge of the cliff while screaming, “FUCK YOU!”

And, from that moment, Wild had me.

For the next two hours, I sat there and I was absolutely enthralled as Cheryl, an aspiring writer and a recovering drug addict who was still struggling to come to terms with the death of her mother (played, in heart-breaking flashbacks, by Laura Dern), hiked her way from the Mexican border up to the Canadian border.  I watched as she learned how to survive in the wilderness, how she cautiously learned to trust some of her fellow hikers, and as she dealt with sexist rangers and creepy hunters.

And there were a lot of reasons why Wild held me so enthralled.  There was Reese Witherspoon’s performance, for one thing.  Reese is on screen during every minute of Wild and, for a lot of that time, she’s alone with her thoughts and her emotions.  She gives an amazingly focused performance, one that should regain her some of the respect that she sacrificed by appearing in movies like This Means War and publicly asking, “Do you know who I am?”  Both the film and Reese’s performance resist the temptation to idealize Cheryl.  Instead, both the film and the performance feel real and because Cheryl comes across as a real person (flaws and all), it makes her journey and her achievement all the more powerful.

I couldn’t help but relate to Cheryl.  Like her, I’m an aspiring writer.  Like her, I’m still learning how to deal with the loss of my mom.  Like her, I have trust issues.  Like her, I am sometimes too stubborn for my own good.  Like her, I like to leave quotes in guest books.  Like her, I always pack a few paperbacks before I go on a trip and I like to write in my journal.  Like Cheryl, I’m a survivor and I’m proud of it.

Unlike Cheryl, however, I’ve never gone hiking and I doubt if I ever will.  As much as I loved Wild (and it’s definitely one of my favorite films of 2014), it didn’t leave me with any great desire to go on a hike.  That’s largely because of that first scene.  When Cheryl threw away her boots and screamed, I thought to myself, “That would so be me.”  Of course, the difference is that Cheryl did that after hiking for a month.  I would probably end up doing that after the 2nd day.  And then I’d turn around, go back home, and spend the weekend watching Netflix.

But here’s the thing: Wild is not really about hiking.  Wild is about the journey.  What’s important is not that Cheryl hiked but that Cheryl accomplished what she set out to do.  No matter how difficult it got, no matter how many people told her she should give up, Cheryl walked from Mexico to Canada.  By the end of the film, I felt like, if Cheryl could do that even with boots that were too small, than there was nothing that I could not do.

As a result, Wild is not only one of the best films of 2014.

It’s the most empowering as well.