Monday, September 28, 2015

The Perfect Girlfriend (Reel One Entertainment, Thrill Films 2, Lifetime, 2015)

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

The film was The Perfect Girlfriend, latest entry in Christine Conradt’s series of scripts about the perfect _____ (fill in the blank) who turns out to be a manipulative, life-threatening psycho. So far she’s done The Perfect Nanny (2000, her first credit as a writer), The Perfect Marriage (2006), The Perfect Assistant (2008), The Perfect Teacher (2010), The Perfect Roommate (2011), The Perfect Boss (2013) — which quite frankly would have worked as a title for this one as well — and now The Perfect Girlfriend. The perfect girlfriend is Simone Matthews (Adrienne Frantz), second-in-command of an advertising agency which maintains an office in New York but whose central location is in that hotbed of advertising and the media world, Portland, Oregon.[1] (I’m not making this up, you know!) The perfect boyfriend Simone latches onto and decides she wants is Brandon Moore (Jon Cor, who’s easy enough on the eyes but not especially sexy, and if he has much in the way of a dick the baggy jeans he wears throughout do a pretty good job of concealing it, but let’s face it, this is Lifetime and he’s playing the victim, so he can’t be too good-looking since in Lifetime’s iconography genuinely hot guys are almost always villains). She gets the boss of the agency, George Brixton (Barry Blake), an old guy who’s pretty much letting her run the place as she wants (it’s not specified in Conradt’s script but we do get the impression that she’s bestowing her body on him to get him to give her the real power in the agency), to give Brandon the highly prized promotion to creative director.

The problem for Brandon and the not-so-perfect girlfriend he’s already got, Jensyn Bannet (Ashley Leggat — did Christine Conradt decide that since the actress already has such a dorky name, her character should, too?), is that taking the promotion involves him leaving New York and moving to Portland, and Brandon and Jensyn have some predictably anxious discussions over whether they can make a long-distance relationship work. Jensyn is a nice-looking woman with long brown hair, and she’s studying to be a doctor; she’d be just right for Brandon except she’s such a drip, and a boring drip at that; Simone sizes her up at once and realizes she’ll offer no real resistance to her plan to take Brandon for herself. Simone plots her campaign to win Brandon with the meticulous precision of a general planning a major battle. First she gets Brixton to give Brandon the promotion instead of it going to another young executive with more seniority. Then, when Brandon books a two-week stay at a Portland hotel, thinking that will give him enough time to find a place when he moves there — but Simone calls the hotel and cancels his reservation, and when he gets to Portland all the hotel can give him is an inferior room for just three days because after that a medical convention is coming to town and all the rooms will be booked. No problem, Simone says; you can stay at my place. Then she keeps Brandon so busy he can’t go back to New York to visit Jensyn as planned, and later she goes so far as to hack into Brandon’s cell phone and e-mail account, intercepting Jensyn’s messages and impersonating her online. (When she opens Brandon’s e-mail to steal Jensyn’s address, there’s a neat in-joke: one of the other names that appears in Brandon’s inbox is “Christine Conradt.”) So Simone is able to send Jensyn e-mails and texts posing as Brandon, and send Brandon e-mails and texts posing as Jensyn, and in both personae she tells him/her that s/he never wants to see him again. Then she pretends to have a date with a boyfriend named Harrison, only the alleged boyfriend stands her up and she goes out with Brandon instead, gets him roaring drunk, and has her wicked way with him when she gets him home.

Along the way Simone brings Brandon over to see her family, which consists of her mother Kathy (Deborah Grover) — who takes Brandon aside and tries to warn him that her daughter is a manipulative bitch and he shouldn’t get caught up in her web — and her brother Cole (Jonathan Koensgen), who has some sort of (unspecified) developmental disability and who takes Brandon aside and asks him, in all seriousness, which side would win in an all-out battle between vampires and zombies. (Jonathan Koensgen is actually the most attractive man in the movie, and for a brief moment I was wondering if Simone had seduced him, too, à la Die Walküre. She’s certainly drawn as kinky enough she’d get a perverse thrill out of doing her 11-years-younger brother, especially if he’s not quite “there” mentally enough to be capable of saying no!) It’s when Cole asks Simone what became of Harrison and why she brought this other guy over instead that we realize Harrison was a real person — before that I had assumed Simone just made him up as part of her seduction scheme, much the way she told Brandon that one reason she wanted him to move in with her was so he could look after her dog, “Bentley,” while she’s out of town on business. She then has to order a dog because she didn’t have one, and when the dog arrives the first thing he does is chew up one of her expensive designer shoes (serves her right!). Brandon is getting ahead in the company, thanks to all the contacts Simone is arranging for him, and he’s also having the greatest sex of his life, so you’d think he’d be happy, wouldn’t you? No-o-o-o-o, this is a Lifetime movie after all, so instead he’s having guilt feelings over Jensyn (despite all Simone’s fake e-mails and texts that she doesn’t want to see him again and has moved on) and misses her, so he spends time getting drunk at fancy bars in the company of a male friend from the office, Trevor Wilkins (Scott Bailey, considerably hotter than Jon Cor and also quite a bit younger-looking, which makes it hard to believe when he says he’s already been through two divorces!). At one point Brandon and Trevor take a bachelor trip to Las Vegas (where there’s a music-video style montage sequence showing the Strip and the various casinos they go to and lose money at, set to a pretty banal soft-rock song that works in the context, that’s by far the finest bit of direction frequent Christine Conradt collaborator Curtis James Crawford[2] does here), and at the same time, back in New York, Jensyn is hanging out with her buddy Haylie (Brianna Barnes), lamenting that Brandon doesn’t want to see her anymore.

Haylie talks her into going to Portland and seeking out Brandon to see if that’s true, and needless to say, when she arrives, she manages to get to Brandon, they both learn that neither’s authentic messages have reached the other (a plot device that’s as old, if not older, as Lucia di Lammermoor!) and they both immediately realize that Simone has got in the way and attempted to sabotage their relationship. Brandon tells Simone that he wants to move out of her place, end their sexual relationship and “just be friends” — “What is this, the 10th grade?” she snarls at him — and she plots her revenge by ordering a case of expensive wine and using her computer-hacking skills to make it look like Brandon bought it for himself and paid for it with a company credit card. Brandon moves in with Trevor and just as Jensyn is visiting him there, Simone shows up with a gun, but Jensyn sneaks behind her with what looks like a fireplace poker, conks her on the head, knocks her unconscious and disarms her easily — way too easily for a Christine Conradt maiden-in-distress; usually it’s much harder to take out a Conradt villainess than that! Jensyn calls 911, the police arrive, and the final scene shows both Simone and her brother Cole at the family home, both with monitoring bracelets on their ankles (what he’s been put under house arrest for is left utterly mysterious), commenting on the irony that now they’ve met the same fate. After the brilliance of The Bride He Bought Online, with its multidimensional characterizations (a villain who’s oddly sympathetic and a victim who’s a bitch we want to see taken down a peg, though certainly not as far down as she goes!) and finely honed direction by Conradt herself, The Perfect Girlfriend seems like a return to formula, with Christine Conradt creating a nice psycho-villainess role for Adrienne Frantz (who plays it to the nines — I especially liked the scene in which she’s coming on to Brandon by wearing a tight white dress that looks like a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen, with the tops of her breasts threatening to lead the rest out of it at any moment: a considerably sexier scene than all the mammary-exposing in Galaxy Girls!) but otherwise pretty much writing it on autopilot. It also seems like she took the message board criticism on to heart, because in this one she didn’t even try for moral ambiguity or dramatic complexity: the bad girl is 100 percent bad and the good guy’s only flaw is his naïve stupidity — one wonders what either of the women in his life see in him!

[1] — The synopsis says it’s Seattle, but the actual film says Portland.

[2] — Though he’s now taking his director credit without his middle name.