Sunday, April 30, 2017

Manny Dearest (Coven Productions, Reel One Entertainment, Lifetime, 2017)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The April 29, 2017 “premiere” showing on Lifetime was of a movie called Manny Dearest — a horrible pun on the title of Christina Crawford’s infamous memoir of life with her superstar (adoptive) mom, Mommie Dearest. It turns out “manny” has become a term of art for a man who’s hired to take care of a single woman’s (or a single man’s, or a married couple’s) children while the parent(s) aren’t home — it’s supposed to be a contraction of “male nanny.” It shouldn’t be surprising that after all the movies Lifetime has churned out about crazy women who take jobs as nannies and want to take over from them both with the children and in their husband’s (or boyfriend’s) bed — including The Perfect Nanny, the 2000 movie (has it really been that long?) that was Christine Conradt’s first sale to the network — they decided this time around to switch the genders and have a male nanny (I hate the term “manny” even more than I hate the word “intersectionality” and the plethora of initials the Queer community identifies itself with nowadays!) doing a psycho number and ultimately terrorizing a woman out of a demented and decidedly unrequited crush on her. This time the male nanny is the reasonably attractive (though not as drop-dead gorgeous as the usual Lifetime male villain) Alex Stanley (Mitch Ryan), who registers with a nanny agency and gets a job with Karen Clark (Ashley Scott), who’s tall, willowy, blonde and wears her hair in a page-boy cut (the latter two points turn out to be important and you’ll be tested on them). She has two kids, Max (Dylan Kingwell) and Rex (Jett Klyne) — if she’d had a third son would she have called him Dix? — but their father has been dead for three years. She’s currently “serious” about a youngish man named Greg Hitchens (Woody Jeffreys), whom we get to meet when he’s coming out of Karen’s bed blessedly naked except for a pair of black undies — and though he’s supposed to be the good guy and most good-looking guys on Lifetime are villains, he’s nice-looking enough it’s a delight to see him that way. He also turns out to be a recovering alcoholic who’s been clean and sober for the last three years, though we don’t learn that about him until much later. Alex immediately bonds with Max and Rex, does such beyond-the-call stuff as thoroughly cleaning Karen’s house, and makes such a fuss fondling Karen’s clothes that at first we think he might be Gay — until we see a fantasy sequence of him and Karen making love.

Though the script for this movie doesn’t mention Whittendale University, it’s the product of the writers who created the “Whittendale universe” — Ken Sanders co-wrote the original story with Daniel West, and Bryan Dick (an unfortunate last name given the sorts of scripts he writes) did the screenplay — and it’s got some of their trademarks, including some bizarre and often confusing cut-ins of fantasy sequences representing the sexual things one of the characters wants to do with another, even though the fantasy object wants nothing to do with him or her that way. Alex instantly falls in love with Karen, while Karen’s best friend Gillian Hagen (Fiona Vroom), a single mother of two girls who frequently play with Karen’s two boys, instantly falls in lust with Alex and is willing to do just about anything to get him to have sex with her. Alex does everything he can to win Karen’s affections, including helping Max out with Brett, a bully (Cory Gruter-Andrew), who’s intimidating him at school and stealing his possessions; first he gives Max a quickie self-defense lesson and then, when Max takes on Brett and gets beaten up (and rescued by Rex, who turns in a false fire alarm), Alex kidnaps Brett’s dog and threatens to kill the dog unless Brett lays off Rex from then on and gives back all the stuff he stole from him. Alex also secretly films Karen in her bedroom, courtesy of a toy drone he’s bought, ostensibly as a present for the kids but really so he can spy on Karen either alone in her bedroom or having sex with Greg. Only Alex’s jealousy really goes into overdrive when he’s asked to look after the kids at night so Karen and Greg can have a “special date” at the restaurant where they had their first date — and Alex realizes that Greg means to propose marriage to Karen. Alex drugs the kids so he can leave them alone, stalks Karen and Greg at the restaurant, turns in a false fire alarm and races back to Karen’s home — which he has to do on foot because he inadvertently parked his car in a no-parking zone and he arrives back at it just to see a tow truck pulling it away — to make it look like he’s been there all along. Later he spikes Greg’s iced tea and drugs him, then pours whiskey all over him and leaves the half-empty bottle, as well as some beers, to make Karen think that Greg has relapsed big-time on a night she had entrusted him with her kids (apparently Alex has seen the 1939 James Cagney film Each Dawn I Die — either that or the writers of Manny Dearest have) — and for several acts Karen refuses to listen to Greg try to explain what happened.

Karen abruptly and angrily breaks up with Greg, who responds by researching Alex on the Internet and finding out that when he was eight his parents killed themselves and he ended up in foster care (the only clue we’re going to get as to What Made Alex Run), and that he previously worked for a woman named Gwen Brown, who also (apparently) committed suicide (though an ambiguous prologue, set some time before the main action, made it look as if Alex had killed her). Gwen is played by Lindsay Maxwell, who looks as much like Ashley Scott as Lifetime’s makeup and casting people could manage — complete with the blonde page-boy haircut, which seems to be the only type of woman that attracts Alex. (At one point we see Alex actually attempting sex with Gillian — she’s hacked into his phone and downloaded his naughty pics of Karen, and will delete them only if he fucks her — but he’s only able to get it up with her if he fantasizes her as the page-boy blonde that’s his only “type.”) It ends about the way you’d expect it to, with Alex taking Karen’s kids to the Wonder World amusement park (though it’s currently closed for the off-season) since that’s the last place where Alex saw his parents before they died, and insisting they’re going to be a real family from now on — only Greg not only figures it out and makes it there himself but leads the police there. Karen and the kids are rescued and Greg ends up in her good graces at the end, but the film has one of those annoying tag sequences Lifetime has been doing a lot of lately, in which Alex gets away and, under another name, is shown interviewing for another “manny” job with another woman who presumably is going to go through the same traumas at his hands. Manny Dearest — filmed under the title A Stranger with My Kids, which wouldn’t have been much better — is just too formulaic to be all that interesting, the sort of movie that you know what’s going to happen an act or two before it does and the writers and director (Chad Krowchuk) don’t throw you any curveballs: they just keep pitching their plot points straight down the middle, and any even slightly experienced Lifetime viewer won’t have any problem hitting these soft pitches out of the park.