Monday, July 26, 2010

The Client List (Jaffe-Braunstein/Lifetime, 2010)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I began it watching a movie that had aired on Lifetime Saturday night, The Client List, which for two-thirds of its running time was a pretty ordinary Lifetime tale of a woman (this time 28 and married rather than barely out of her teens, and doing it to save her home from foreclosure and provide for her out-of-work husband and three kids) drifting into prostitution and drug addiction. Desperate because they’ve received a foreclosure notice and the banker who sold them the subprime loan in the first place won’t (or, in the real world, most likely can’t) renegotiate, Samantha “Sam” Horton (Jennifer Love Hewitt) accepts a job at a “massage parlor” in Ladeena, Texas (a substantial but not ridiculously long commute from her home in another Texas town). She thinks she’d being hired as a legitimate masseuse but soon learns that the place is a whorehouse only thinly disguised as a massage parlor — and kept from being raided only by the freebies the madam hands out to the local cops.

The film is ostensibly based on a true story, though the closing credits acknowledge that what we see is heavily fictionalized, and Sam starts her career as a prostitute for her family in general and her husband Rex (Teddy Sears, considerably hotter-looking than the milquetoasts Lifetime usually casts in parts like this) in particular. The gimmick is that one reason she’s especially successful is her extraordinary memory, which enables her not only to recall the sexual preferences of all of her customers but also make small talk with them about their jobs, their families (one gets the impression from this film that a prostitute is also a sort of marriage counselor) and all manner of details about their lives that charm them and get her bigger tips. In fact, she throws herself into the job so enthusiastically that by mid-film she’s having trouble maintaining the energy even to stay awake, much less to keep up with her clientele and her family responsibilities (she raises the $100 her son needs to compete in flag football but then doesn’t make it to the game when he scores his first touchdown) — until a trucker who’s one of her “regulars” introduces her to cocaine, and in the space of a couple of commercial breaks she’s hooked big-time, even getting rude to her customers out of withdrawal frenzies and not giving them the kind of small talk that had endeared her to them before.

She’s staging a scene like that when the place gets raided — apparently Ladeena’s woman mayor is in the middle of a tough re-election campaign and she’s decided to mount an offensive against the “massage parlor” and bust not only the prostitutes but also the clients they’re servicing. Our Heroine gets busted and is defended by an African-American woman attorney who, along with a local bartender, has been part of her group of two other women confidantes — and the lawyer tells her that the only way she can duck a two-year prison sentence is if she can give up the names of her customers. She recruits the other girls and they come up with a list of 69 names — and of course screenwriter Suzanne Martin can’t resist a few jokes about the sexual appropriateness of that number — and with the ammunition of the clients’ names they’re able to bargain their sentences down to 30 days each. But, needless to say, the strain of the revelation that his wife is a prostitute and a drug addict has led Rex to leave her and take the kids — though they seem headed for a reconciliation at the end after she and one of her buddies from the massage parlor have taken jobs as waitresses (the irony being that in their days as whores they had joked that however bad it got, “it’s better than waitressing”) and Sam and Rex have a reunion meeting at the end which gets underscored with one of the sappy piano-and-strings instrumentals that seems to abound in Lifetime’s music library for scenes like these.

The film is a bit overdirected by Eric Laneuville — his worst sequence is one in which, to dramatize how lonely she feels in her house now that her husband and the kids are gone, he dissolves from her in the bedroom to her in the living room to her in the kitchen, and she seems to be moving magically around the house in a sort of female version of Where’s Waldo? — but as it stands it’s still nice clean dirty fun even though much less is made of the potential embarrassment to the big men of Ladeena (and surrounding environs) from their exposure as customers of prostitutes than could have been. The best line is one in which the attorney responds to the judge who’s on Sam’s list by saying, “I used to have a crush on him!” — and Sam replies, “Sometimes small things come in big packages.”