Friday, August 9, 2013

Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret (City Entertainment, PeaceOut Productions, Silver Screen Pictures, Lifetime, 2013)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret, and while I felt a bit guilty about watching it (especially after one speaker at the recent rally in San Diego protesting Bradley Manning’s conviction said that publicizing the Jodi Arias trial was a typical mainstream media ploy to take people’s minds off serious political issues and distract them with sex — the speaker said that in a society that really cared about what mattered it would have been the Manning trial that had gavel-to-gavel live coverage), it turned out to be unexpectedly interesting. “Everybody knows the Jodi Arias story,” said the opening line of the review that came up when I looked the film up on; well, I didn’t — I’d ignored it when it was in the news — and so I was able to come to the film de novo, with no prejudices one way or the other (the way I had when Lifetime broadcast Prosecuting Casey Anthony — a project they obviously commissioned before the jury verdict came in, whose writers clearly assumed Casey Anthony would be convicted of murder, and who had to do a fast and awkward rewrite of the ending when she wasn’t; personally I thought the jury got it right and Ms. Anthony was guilty of nothing more than a clumsy and ham-handed attempt to cover up the accidental death of her baby daughter). The film was surprisingly well written (by Richard Blaney and Gregory Small), directed (by Jace Alexander) and acted (especially by the two stars, Tania Raymonde as Arias and the very sexy Jesse Lee Soffer as her lover and, later, victim, Travis Alexander). In their hands the Jodi Arias story came off as a weird mix of Madama Butterfly and Fatal Attraction (though Fatal Attraction was itself based loosely on Madama Butterfly and the connection would have been clearer if the film had been released with the original ending — the Glenn Close character commits suicide but frames the scene to make it look like the Michael Douglas character murdered her — instead of the bloodbath scene shot later and spliced on after disappointing previews of the original).

Travis Alexander is one of those obnoxious “motivational speakers” who gives high-priced “success” seminars at fancy resorts. Jodi Arias is an attendee at one of those seminars who thinks he’s so hot she’s willing to throw herself at him the very night she first lays eyes on him — but he’s a bit too reticent to go for her offer. She invites him to her room for “coffee” — and he says he’s a Mormon and therefore he’s not allowed to drink coffee — whereupon she says actually she wanted him for “bed-splintering sex,” and though he turns down her invitation that night, eventually he succumbs. The Butterfly parallels are intriguing — the Mormon Church is to Travis Alexander what the U.S. Navy was to B. F. Pinkerton, though like a lot of males he isn’t about to let the strictures of the church get in the way of his satisfying the demands of his dick, especially when a hot, sexy blonde woman is literally throwing herself at him. Like Butterfly and Pinkerton, they have diametrically opposed conceptions of their relationship; she thinks of him as The One and he thinks of her as a convenient fuck buddy with whom he can get his rocks off until he finishes the wild-oat sowing and settles down and marries a Mormon girl. In fact, one day he flat-out tells her, “Someday I’m going to marry a Mormon girl” — evoking Pinkerton’s comment in Butterfly (though at least Pinkerton doesn’t say it with Butterfly present!) that Butterfly is only a convenience while he’s in port in Nagasaki and someday he’ll marry a “real American wife.” Arias’ response to Alexander saying he wants to marry a Mormon girl is to convert (like Butterfly’s conversion to Christianity in hopes that would bridge the gap between her and her man!), and her response to his complaint that they can’t sustain a long-distance relationship is to move to his home town, Mesa, Arizona, and look for work there. Eventually Travis finds his “real Mormon girl,” Katie (Leah Pipes) — though in violation of the strictures of his church he engages her in premarital sex as well — and he dumps Jodi, who slinks back to her home base in southern California but eventually returns to Mesa after she learns of a (temporary) estrangement between Travis and Katie. Jodi — who’s since darkened her hair and taken on the rather restrained appearance she had in her trial — manages to push her way not only back into Travis’s home but back into his bed, and they have a hot sex scene which she photographs extensively with her new digital camera. They’re about to do a home-made porn film with the video feature on her camera when Travis decides to take a shower first, and while he’s doing that his cell phone beeps to indicate a text from Katie offering to reconcile with Travis. Jodi goes ballistic with jealousy and starts stabbing Travis with a knife, inflicting 27 to 29 stab wounds on him (the script gives both numbers) and then shooting him with a gun she stole from her grandmother’s house — not that it mattered because she’d already killed him with the knife by the time she shot him.

Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret (the title comes not from anything said at her trial but from Travis’s own description of her as his “dirty little secret” he had to conceal from his Mormon friends and members of his church) is quite a good movie, better than an exploitation quickie like this has a right to be, and what’s especially good about it is the exploration of Travis Alexander’s hypocrisy and the sense it gives of how Mormonism really is like a small town. Mormons, especially in communities where they’re the majority, actually do make it their business to know everybody else’s business (as I’ve heard from the ex-Mormons I’ve interviewed, mostly ones who were either thrown out of the church or left voluntarily because they were Gay), and the most vividly realized aspect of Travis’s character as depicted here is his fear that the Mormon busybodies would expose his clandestine affair with Jodi and he’d be ostracized at best and “disfellowshipped” — thrown out of the church — at worst. The pull between Travis’s Mormon community and his outside sex life is vividly dramatized — and so is the obsession of Jodi Arias, who once she had fastened on to this man wasn’t about to let him go and who ultimately became his stalker and posted a whole wall full of photos of him crudely clipped out of snapshots (she’s established as a camera buff and aspiring professional photographer at the start) in what’s become almost a cliché movie scene to depict someone’s unhealthy (to say the least!) obsession with someone else. The tie between the sexually rambunctious but morally repressed Travis and the sexually open but emotionally oppressive Jodi was obviously a relationship made in hell even before she killed him, and the combination of his religious repression and her sexual obsession was essentially what killed him. And if the religious hypocrisy angle wasn’t enough, for this movie Lifetime returned to the hot old days when their “pussies in peril” movies (though this one was more “pussy imperiling”!) featured lots of soft-core porn; though he’s considerably slenderer and more boyish than the real Travis Alexander, Jesse Lee Soffer has a great bod and it was certainly exciting to see as much of it as we did!