Monday, September 7, 2015

A Teacher's Obsession (Fancy Pants Films/Lifetime, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night I watched yet another heavily hyped Lifetime movie, A Teacher’s Obsession, which differed from most of the previous Lifetime movies about crazy teachers trying to get over-involved in the lives of their students (or, a sub-genre they’ve probably pursued more often, crazy students trying to frame the teachers for this — the very best TV-movie I’ve seen about a teacher who got in trouble for having sex with a student was All-American Girl: The Mary Kay LeTourneau Story, and that was made for the USA Network, not Lifetime) in that the crazy teacher and her victim are of the same sex. The crazy teacher is Janet Cunningham (Boti Bliss, who’s been a regular on Lifetime movies for so long she’s aged out of the crazy-teenager roles and gets to play the crazy-grownup roles instead), who returns to the prestigious Edgington Academy (i.e., a private “prep” high school) after a three-year sabbatical and takes over the life of the victim, Bridgette (Mia Rose Frampton, daughter of late-1970’s rock star Peter Frampton), a blonde who’s grades have gone south enough that, despite the clout of her mother Candace (Molly Hagan), who’s on the school’s board of directors, the school’s headmaster, York (played by Adrian Sparks as a typical piece of avuncular cluelessness), puts her on academic probation and thereby kicks her off as the star of Edgington’s women’s lacrosse team. (I’m not making this up, you know.) Bridgette reluctantly and grudgingly relinquishes the title of captain of women’s lacrosse to her roommate Dani (Madalyn Horcher), and she also agrees to give up her boyfriend Bobby (Dillon James), a computer science major, because mom is convinced her grades trended downward because she was giving more attention to Bobby and to lacrosse than to her studies.

No problem, says Janet; she takes Bridgette under her wing, offering to coach her in her studies and actually writing her English papers for her — which naturally, as her newly assigned English teacher, she gives an A+ grade to — as well as scoring her the answers to an upcoming calculus midterm. Janet also offers Bridgette a cell phone so she can contact Bobby without leaving any evidence her mom can trace, and offers her the use of her apartment so she and Bobby can have sex — which they do, though Bobby seems unexpectedly diffident about the whole thing and hardly the sort of raging hormone-driven adolescent boy we usually see in these productions (though we do get some nice shots of Dillon James’ shirtless bod). What the lovebirds don’t realize is that Janet has her bedroom wired with a bed-cam and she’s in her office watching them on her laptop as they screw, and when she’s interrupted in this bit of lascivious espionage by the school’s homely middle-aged nerd math teacher, John Jeter (Eric Curtis Johnson), she sexually assaults him and demands that he tell her he loves her (just like Bobby was doing with Bridgette). At first we think she’s just so overcome with sexual desire from watching the real-time porn of Bobby and Bridgette getting it on that she’s ready to jump the bones of the first available male, but it turns out she’s got a more dastardly game up her sleeve; as he falls asleep on her office couch post-coitally, she rifles his paper and steals the upcoming calculus exam so she can feed Bridgette the answers. Later, while the exam is being given, Janet sends Jeter a lascivious text (“Why is calculus like your member? They’re both hard for me”), which distracts him long enough so Bridgette can palm the exam paper she was working on and substitute the one she prepared earlier with all the right answers. But Bridgette is too nice a girl to do all this cheating without qualms, and her guilt feelings rise when her roommate Dani (ya remember her roommate Dani?) gets reassigned to a dorm for “problem” students because Janet has (falsely) told the school administrators that she’s had a recurrence of her “eating disorder.” Later Janet sends Bridgette’s boyfriend Bobby a text in Bridgette’s name telling him to meet her under the grandstand at the school’s athletic field, only it’s a trap: he blindfolds Bobby with a pair of Bridgette’s undies she’d left behind in Janet’s apartment the last time she and Bobby fucked, gets him to have sex with her thinking she’s Bridgette, then the cops come in and Janet swears that Bobby raped her, so he’s arrested.

Bridgette confronts her mother and demands that she, as a school board member, do something to rein in the crazy teacher who’s taking over her life, and then comes the big switcheroo writers Trysta A. Bissett and Preston DeFrancis and director Blair Hayes have been prepping us for all movie: mom was a student at Edgington at the same time Janet was and Janet similarly took over her life, telling her (as she would tell her daughter a quarter-century later) that she was a “special” person, that she had the “light” in her that marked her for future leadership, and it was the responsibility of Janet to “help” her — and if that meant cheating, so be it. So Mom felt she couldn’t expose Janet because then she herself would be exposed as a person who got her prominence (including an election bid for the city council of the unnamed city in which this is taking place) by cheating in prep school. In the end Bridgette corners Janet and assaults her with a lacrosse stick, telling Janet that unless she signs herself into a mental institution at once the FBI will be arresting her on child-porn charges for filming the sex scene between Bridgette and Bobby when they were both below the official age of consent. In the sort of twisted open-ended ending that was once a novelty but has since become yet another annoying resource in Lifetime’s cliché bank, the final scene is Janet in the institution, accosting a fellow patient of considerably younger years but uncertain gender (I think it was a guy, but I couldn’t be too sure) with all her lame lines about how he’s “special,” he’s got the “light” of leadership and she’s there to “help” him (or her, or them, or it, or whatever). A Teacher’s Obsession is a not-bad Lifetime movie, and I give writers Bissett and DeFrancis credit for powerfully keeping Janet’s motives ambiguous — they did not have her slobber all over Bridgette or attempt Lesbian rape on her, which was nice — but that’s about the only real subtlety, aside from the performances by the two older women: Boti Bliss is chilling, reminding me of the similar role played by Louise Lewis in the 1958 American-International horror Blood of Dracula, and Molly Hagan is great as what seems at first to be just another Overprotective Mother from Hell in a Lifetime movie but almost literally crumbles before our eyes as she realizes that Janet’s involvement with her daughter is going to bring down the house of cards that has kept her own secrets hidden.