Lifetime Film Review: V.C. Andrews’ Pearl in the Mist (dir by David Bercovici-Artieda)

Since I kind of enjoyed watching Ruby earlier today, I decided to watch the second film in Lifetime’s Landry family saga, V.C. Andrews’ Pearl In the Mist.

Pearl in the Mist picks up where the first film ended.  The year is 1962 and aspiring artist Ruby (Raechelle Banno) is living in New Orleans and still thinking about the life that she left behind in the Bayou.  Her father (Gil Bellows) is still married to her bitchy stepmother (Lauralee Bell).  Ruby’s twin sister, Giselle (Karina Banno), is still using a wheelchair as a result of a car accident and she’s still angry that Ruby stole away Giselle’s boyfriend, Beau (Ty Wood).  Ruby’s half-brother, Paul (Sam Duke), is still living in the Bayou and is still in love with Ruby, despite the fact that any physical relationship between them would be incestuous.

However, it’s time for Ruby and Giselle to get out of New Orleans.  They’ve been enrolled in a prestigious boarding school.  Giselle is not happy about having to leave home.  Ruby is excited because, goddammit, Ruby’s excited about everything.  At the boarding school, Ruby deals with all sorts of drama.  She befriends a girl who is passing as white.  She inspires a blind pianist.  She flirts with a hunky groundskeeper.  She continues to paint under the tutelage of Miss Stevens (Meaghan Hewitt McDonald).  She does all of this despite the fact that the school’s headmistress (Marilu Henner) hates her because Ruby is from the Bayou and no one trusts “swamp people.”  As the same time, Ruby has to deal with her wicked stepmother and her bitter sister.

I have to admit that, at first, I didn’t think I was going to like Pearl in the Mist, if just because Ruby herself was so perfect that she was kind of annoying.  She never had a bad thought.  She never said a bad word.  She was also so extremely naïve and so endlessly enthusiastic that I could understand why Giselle was so sick of having to deal with her.  Ruby’s innocence made sense in the first film, because Ruby was still adjusting to life in the city.  But, by the time Pearl in the Mist rolls around, there’s really no excuse for Ruby to be so clueless about …. well, everything.

Fortunately, about halfway through, the film started to get interesting.  Bizarre incidents started to pile up.  Characters started to snap at each other in dialogue that was so overwritten and pulpy that it was kind of impossible not to love the sound of it.  The film embraced the melodrama, as I like to say.  It all eventually led to a plot twist involving Giselle that was so insane and so out there that it redeemed the entire film.  Karina Banno appeared to be having a lot of fun being bad as Giselle and it was fun to watch her.  If you’re going to be in a film like this, you always want to play the bad girl.  They always get the best lines.

In the end, Pearl in the Mist was so over-the-top and cheerfully silly that I couldn’t help but enjoy it.  All trips to the Bayou should be as fun.

Lifetime Film Review: V.C. Andrews’ Ruby (dir by Gail Harvey)

This time is the 1950s and the place is Louisiana.  Ruby Landry (Raechelle Banno) is a teenage girl who lives in a shack out on the Bayou.  She’s never known her mother.  She’s never known her father.  She does know her Grandmere, Catherine (Naomi Judd), who is a Bayou witch.  

Ruby might not know much but she knows how to paint.  One day, the owner of a New Orleans art gallery just happened to be driving by when he spots Catherine selling Ruby’s paintings on the side of the road.  He’s impressed, even though the paintings aren’t really that impressive.  He buys the paintings and then hangs them in his gallery.  Ruby can’t wait until she graduates high school so that she can move to New Orleans with her boyfriend, Paul Tate (Sam Duke).  Except … uh-oh!  Grandmere explains to Ruby that Paul is actually her half-brother so no, they can’t run off together.  That’s incest and that might be okay for the Ozarks but folks in the Bayous got standards.

As long as secrets are being shared, Grandmere also explains that Ruby’s father is a wealthy man named Pierre Dumas (Gil Bellow) and that Ruby actually has a twin sister, who we later learn is named Gisselle (and who is played by Karina Banno, the twin sister of Raechelle Banno).  Having dropped a lot of information on Ruby, Grandmere promptly dies.

Ruby inherits Grandmere’s shack and she still has the money that she made off of her paintings, which means that Ruby is now one of the richest people in the Bayou.  However, her alcoholic grandfather still wants to sell her to a local businessman so Ruby flees the Bayous, heads to New Orleans, and decides to live with Pierre!

Pierre is ecstatic to discover that he has another daughter.  Pierre’s wife (Lauralee Bell) is a bit less excited about it.  And Gisselle claims that she could hardly care less about her Bayou sister.  In fact, it seems like Ruby’s only ally is the housekeeper who, it turns out, knows all of the best voodoo priestesses in New Orleans….

Now, believe it or not, all of that happens within the first 30 minutes of RubyRuby is not a boring film.  In fact, one could claim that there’s almost too much going on.  No sooner has Ruby moved into the house than she’s hearing mysterious weeping coming from one of the bedrooms.  No sooner has Ruby started high school in New Orleans than she’s being set up for humiliation by her twin sister.  As soon as Ruby draws one of her classmates naked, you know that she’s going to end up in an asylum where a doctor will demand to know if she’s familiar with the term nymphomania.  Ruby is a big and messy film, one that embraces the melodrama with so much enthusiasm that it’s easy to overlook that the film really doesn’t make much sense and that a lot of the plot is dependent upon people not being particularly smart.

Ruby is one of the many recent Lifetime films to be adapted from a V.C. Andrews novel.  Now, of course, V.C. Andrews didn’t have anything to do with writing Ruby.  She died long before the book was written.  Instead, Ruby was written by ghost writer, pretending to be Andrews.  The plot ticks off all of the usual V.C. Andrews tropes with such precision that it’s hard not to be both impressed and amused.  White trash?  Yep.  Incest?  Yep.  Rich relatives?  Yep.  More incest?  Yep.  Big house?  Yep.  Twins?  Yep.  If you made use of a random V.C. Andrews plot generation, it would probably give you something similar to Ruby.

Ruby is silly fun.  It doesn’t reach the heights of Flowers in the Attic films but it’s still better than the films that Lifetime made about the Casteel family.  It was also the first of four films about Ruby and her family.  I’ve got the other three on the DVR and I’ll be watching and hopefully reviewing them before the month ends.

What Lisa Watched Last Night #200: The College Admissions Scandal (dir by Adam Salky)

Last night, like all good Americans, I watched The College Admissions Scandal on Lifetime!

Why Was I Watching It?

How could I not watch it!?

Seriously, Lifetime has been advertising the Hell out of this thing for the past few months.  I haven’t been able to turn on the channel without seeing a few hundred commercials for The College Admissions Scandal.

Add to that, I have to admit that this is the rare national scandal that I’ve actually been following.  When the news first broke that certain rich people had cheated and broken the rules to get their child into a good college, my initial reaction was, “Well, isn’t that what a parent’s supposed to do?”  Of course, I made the mistake of saying that on twitter and I immediately ended up with a bunch of finger-wagging nags screaming at me about how it wasn’t something to make a joke about and how it wasn’t fair and blah blah blah.  They sure told me!  Of course, it didn’t really change my mind or anything but at least everyone else got to feel like they had stuck up for truth and justice.  That said, I think my point remains valid.  Don’t get mad at the parents for taking advantage of the system.  They’re just trying to look after their kids.  Instead, get mad at the colleges that were willing to be bribed.  Get mad at a system that’s been specifically set up to be corrupted.  The solution is reform, not necessarily imprisonment.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I kinda love the fact that, while Felicity Huffman basically begged everyone to forgive her, Lori Loughlin pretty much said, “Fuck you, I’m not apologizing for anything.” That’s the spirit!

What Was It About?

Penelope Ann Miller plays a character who is definitely not Felicity Huffman, just as Mia Kirshner is playing someone who is definitely not Lori Loughlin.  That said, like Miller and Loughlin, they’re two wealthy mothers who are concerned about getting their children into the right school.  Fortunately, Rick Singer (Michael Shanks) is willing to sell his services as an admissions consultant.  Pay him enough money and he’ll fix your child’s grades, improve their test scores, and even make them look like athletes!

It sounds like a great plan!  Of course, it’s also illegal and, even as the parents are looking forward to sending their kids to Stanford and Harvard, the FBI is looking forward to sending the parents to prison!

What Worked?

Miller and Kirshner were both well-cast and Kirshner was especially good as the mother who definitely was not Lori Loughlin.  Michael Shanks was also wonderfully repellent in the role of Rick Singer.

It was fascinating to watch the lengths that Singer and the families went to remaking their children.  My main memory of this film will probably always be Sarah Dugdale standing in front of a blue screen and kicking a soccer ball so that she can later be photoshopped into a picture of an actual soccer game.

What Did Not Work?

Where were the real people!?  Yes, Rick Singer is a real person but why were all the parents fictional?  I assume for legal reasons.  For instance, Lori Loughlin has yet to be convicted of anything and I imagine that Lifetime didn’t want to get on the bad side of either Felicity Huffman or William H. Macy by portraying them in the movie.  But seriously, it was hard not to be disappointed by the lack of real world gossip.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Hmmmm …. I got into college legally but then again, I also didn’t go to an Ivy League school, nor did I ever particularly want to.  To be honest, it didn’t really occur to me that college was actually that important until my senior year.  That’s when I was like, “Oh, I’m actually supposed to do something with this art history degree….”

Lessons Learned

If you want to send your child to a good college, get them interested in soccer early.