Monday, July 3, 2017

The Wrong Crush (Hybrid LLC/LIfetime, 2017)

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

My “feature” last night was one of the very best movies I’ve ever seen on Lifetime: The Wrong Crush. The omens for this one weren’t good: it was another production of the folks at Hybrid LLC, who’ve also given us “Wrong _____” series films like The Wrong House and The Wrong Roommate (which, like The Wrong Crush, was directed by David DeCoteau from a script by Matthew Jason Walsh, though the original story for The Wrong Crush came from co-producers Jeffrey Schenck and Peter Sullivan, who also wrote the original story for the recently aired and unimpressive The Wrong House), and the plot line followed familiar Lifetime clichés. The central character is a teenage girl named Amelia Cross (Victoria Konefal), who in the opening scene is shown on a hospital gurney being wheeled into an operating room for emergency surgery following a car accident. Just before they put her under she babbles incoherently about a friend named Joy who was in the car with her when it crashed, and the hospital workers’ silence about Joy’s fate let both Amelia and us know that she was killed in the crash. Then there’s a chyron title reading, “Two Years Later” — itself a surprise because usually these days Lifetime movies begin with the climactic crisis and the chyron title thereafter announces that the film is flashing us back to a time days, weeks or months earlier — and it turns out that two years later Amelia has re-established herself at the local high school. In a series of flashbacks intercut with the main action we realize that Amelia had a serious problem with alcoholism and drug abuse, to the point where she not only continually lied to her mom Tracy (a nicely hard-edged performance by Lesli Kay) but once actually assaulted mom with a bottle. Joy’s death shocked Amelia into getting clean and sober, and she hasn’t either drunk or took drugs in two years, but the cold war between mother and daughter has continued to such a level that Tracy regularly works double shifts at the nursing home that employs her rather than have to confront her daughter at home. Amelia is dating a young man named Scott Bradley (played by an actor named Pedro Correa, though he’s sandy-haired and light-skinned and doesn’t look at all Latino, as his name would suggest) who’s on the high school football team — Amelia herself is the school’s track star and has run the 400-meter dash with a time just four seconds off the world’s record for women — and he’s also in a band, which naturally makes Amelia’s mom Tracy suspicious that he’s doing drugs himself and will lead her back to that lifestyle.

One day Amelia and her friend Lauren (Natalie Haro) meet a hot new guy on campus, Jake Jarrico (Ricardo Hoyos); Lauren immediately has the hots for him but he’s only interested in cruising Amelia, who begs off on the ground that she already has a boyfriend. Amelia is still being haunted by her guilt feelings over Joy’s death — and she’s also being hounded by Joy’s parents (Jon Briddell and Meredith Thomas), who show up at her track practice and angrily chew her out, saying that they intend to do everything in their power to make her life miserable and keep her from getting the college track scholarship she’s counting on because they blame her for Joy’s death and will never forgive her. It turns out that Joy died because she and Amelia went out one night in Joy’s mother’s car, both drunk and stoned to the proverbial gills, and they made a dare that each would drive at night for 15 minutes without the car’s headlights on. Joy went first and drove the car off the road into a ravine — Amelia, on the passenger’s side, lucked out because her window was open and she was thrown clear, but Joy was killed in the ensuing crash. Amelia was given probation because she was still a juvenile, but it was made clear to her that she would do jail time if she were ever caught drinking or using drugs again. In the present, Amelia goes for long jogs, not only to keep her running skills up but because running is the only thing she can do that gives her peace, and she’s torn between Scott’s increasing suspicions of her and Jake’s creepily unwelcome attentions. The plot turns when Jake breaks into Scott’s locker and plants a large quantity of steroid pills therein, then calls in a tip to the school, leading to Scott’s suspension and pending charges against him for dealing drugs. Amelia is also caught up in the investigation because one of the things the school authorities and the cops suspect was that Scott was slipping her steroids to boost her performance on the track.

Then we get a cut-in scene in which Jake is shown inside an SUV being driven by Joy’s father, and it turns out Jake isn’t a high school student at all, but a 20-year-old private investigator Joy’s father hired to get Amelia in trouble and get her probation revoked. In a scene that wasn’t nearly as surprising as the writers intended it to be because it was used in the trailer, Jake tells Joy’s father as they’re sitting in the car together, “We’re both obsessed with her, but I’m the only one who’s willing to kill for her” — and then he fatally stabs Joy’s dad and leaves him in the car to die. It seems that Jake bailed on the plot because he fell genuinely in love — or at least the twisted version thereof most good-looking guys on Lifetime feel towards the movies’ heroines — with Amelia, and determined to eliminate the competition. Amelia agrees to take Jake jogging on her preferred route, which goes by the site of Joy’s death, only Jake makes a crude pass at her, she turns him down, and he says, “You’ll be sorry.” Since Amelia isn’t old enough to have a child of her own Jake can kidnap for the obligatory climax, Jake kidnaps Scott and demands that Amelia join him at the site of Joy’s crash, where he will release Scott if Amelia agrees to run off with Jake. Amelia’s mom figures out what’s going on and uses the tracer app she previously installed on Amelia’s cell phone to find her, then goes out there with Joy’s mom (who seems to have been convinced by her husband’s death pursuing a plot against Amelia she’d tried to talk him out of that continuing her vendetta against Amelia is a bad idea and will only prolong her grief, not resolve it), confronts Jake and surprises him by bashing his head in with a rock, assaulting him twice and knocking him down the hill so he dies from the fall about where Joy’s car went off the road.

In summary, this doesn’t sound different from the plots for a hundred other Lifetime movies, but where The Wrong Crush scores is in the peculiar emotional intensity of Matthew Jason Walsh’s dialogue and the multidimensionality he brings to the characters (something we’re not used to seeing in Lifetime movies, especially ones Christine Conradt didn’t write). The scene between Amelia and her mom Tracy in which Scott’s arrest on a set-up charge of drug possession with intent to sell convinces Tracy that Amelia has relapsed and is drinking and/or using again is particularly intense; one understands where both the characters are coming from and also gets a sense of tragedy that try as she might to be good and competent, Amelia can’t escape her past or the damage she did during it. The characters are drawn as real people, not stick figures in a Lifetime thriller: Amelia is someone we’re obviously supposed to like, and yet we get a sense of the tortured past she led and how it’s come back to haunt her in the present, and just how flimsy her “recovery” is and how hard she continually has to work at it. (I’ve talked with people in 12-step programs and got the impression that the way the 12-step system constantly forces you to dwell on your substance-abusing past makes you feel like you’re still an addict even if you’re currently clean and sober.)

Scott seems like a decent boy but also a wretchedly unsupportive one, “reading” Amelia’s confusion about their relationship as rejection and outright accusing her of cheating on him. Jake is a quirky character who’s several cuts above Lifetime’s usual villains: he’s got his own tumbled past (he was thrown out of military school for beating up on his fellow students, though he made up a cock-and-bull story about being responsible for the death of his brother that got him into the support group Amelia was obliged under her probation terms to attend) and he becomes a real flesh-and-blood character in his yearnings, even though he’s also despicable — though Schenck, Sullivan, Walsh and DeCoteau pull the old trick of making us not feel too bad about him committing murder because the person he killed was a bastard whom we don’t feel all that sorry to see go. (If anything, we feel for Joy’s mother first for having lost her daughter, then for her husband hatching this crazy scheme against Amelia she tried to talk him out of, and finally for her losing her husband when his co-conspirator kills him.) The Wrong Crush builds a peculiar level of emotional intensity rare for a Lifetime movie — indeed, rare for any sort of movie in this weird age in which film directors and writers seem to want us to observe the characters as if they were lab rats and not get too emotionally connected with any of them — and manages to be both entertaining and deeply moving in a way that embraces the Lifetime clichés and yet transcends them.