Monday, April 23, 2018

I Killed My BFF: The Preacher’s Daughter (Blue Sky Films, Reel One Entertainment, Jarrett Creative, Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night, in between 60 Minutes and Madam Secretary, I put on another Lifetime “premiere” movie (for some reason they’re doing reruns on Saturdays and have relocated their “premieres” to Sundays) of a film originally shot under the title Do Unto Others but ultimately shown with the preposterous name I Killed My BFF: The Preacher’s Daughter. (They’d done another movie called I Killed My BFF in 2015.) It was yet another Lifetime production in which once sensed a bad movie with a good movie trapped inside it trying to get out — indeed, several good movies trying to get out, which was part of the problem. The central character is Lily Adler (Megan West), fraternal twin sister of drug-addled scapegrace Jason Adler (Matthew James Ballinger — the cutest guy and the best actor in the movie, which of course means he gets killed about two-fifths of the way through the running time). Their father (Joel Gretsch) is pastor of a nondenominational church whose theology is carefully unspecified but seems to hew much closer to God as fear than God as love, judging from the way he treats his kids. Their mom offs herself early on by combining alcohol and pills. Lily seems to be a good girl but has a dark past that included drinking, drugs and sex — at 16 she lost her virginity to a 27-year-old man who bailed on her as soon as he knocked her up, and mom arranged for an abortion but never got over her own guilt feelings about that, which, it’s strongly hinted by writers Danny Abel and Blake Berris, helped cause her suicide. As the movie opens Jason is dating — or at least visiting and having a lot of sex with — a woman twice his age named Rae Chastain (Carly Pope, who’s well cast in the role — she looks like the sort of hot older woman a teenager with more libido than brains would fall for!), whom we meet when she’s having a wild party (as wild as Lifetime filmmakers could make it, anyway) involving alcohol, cocaine and sex. Rae’s daughter Scarlet (Katherine Reis), whom Rae named after The Scarlet Letter (a tale about adultery involving a married woman’s affair with a priest), comes home in the middle of the party, finds her mom and mom’s friends drinking and doing lines of coke, and a man and a woman fucking in her bedroom. Scarlet is disgusted and walks out, moving in with her 15-year-old boyfriend Nolan (whom we never see), though it’s above-board: Nolan is still living with his parents and they’re cool with the idea of Scarlet staying there as long as she and Nolan sleep in separate rooms. Jason invites his sister Lily to visit his girlfriend Rae, and Rae determines to corrupt the good little preacher’s daughter, taking her to a dance club and feeding her alcohol and pills, leaving her woozy when she wakes up the next morning and she’s supposed to be leading the youth group at her dad’s church.

Nonetheless, Lily snaps back to her good side when Jason ends up dead — he and Rae were out driving in Jason’s truck, Jason demanded a packet of heroin, Rae said that was one drug even she would never do, and just how Jason meets her demise and Rae gets injured (from which she ends up with a prescription for pain meds which she, of course, abuses) isn’t explained until later in the show: Jason took the smack, then jumped off a bridge, and Rae leaped in after him but too late to save him. Meanwhile, Scarlet catches her boyfriend Nolan seeing other girls and moves back in with her mom, only she’s also drawn to Lily’s church — which, for some reason writers Abel and Berris never bother to explain, pisses off Rae big-time: she determines to keep her daughter away from Lily, Lily’s dad and their church. There’s a total-immersion baptism ceremony for the youth-group members in which Lily is baptizing Scarlet when a furious Rae shows up, takes her away and announces that the two are leaving town to get Scarlet away from That Church. The climax occurs at a ceremony dedicating the church’s new youth center to the memory of Jason and Jason’s mom, and Scarlet runs away from home to attend — only her mom follows her there and Lily pulls out Jason’s old gun (which we’d seen Jason playing with in an early scene — Anton Chekhov strikes again!) and in the middle of the ceremony denounces Rae as an instrument of the devil whom she has no choice but to get rid of on the spot. Ultimately Rae gets the gun away from Lily, the two wrestle for it (Maurine Dallas Watkins strikes again!) and Rae ends up dead — and in the final scene Lily is shown wearing an orange jumpsuit, leading a Christian group in women’s prison, while her dad, who apparently lost his church as fallout from his daughter’s murderous rage, is preaching in a basketball gym.

Lifetime’s official synopsis claims this story is “inspired by true events,” which makes one want to research the “true events” and see if they were as dramaturgically messy as Abel’s and Berris’s fictions; as it is, I Killed My BFF: The Preacher’s Daughter is full of characters who are wildly self-contradictory, not because Abel and Berris created people with legitimate dramatic and moral complexity, but simply because they never really decided who these people were or what they wanted. The director, Seth Jarrett, does a surprisingly good job with the mess Abel and Berris gave him, and the acting is quite good — though Joel Gretsch just seems to be there as the preacher dad (the writers drop a couple of hints that he’s incestuously attracted to Lily because she reminds him of her dead mom, though fortunately they don’t go very far into that), West, Pope and Reis all deliver legitimately powerful performances and do their best to convince us that these are real people with mixed motives and desires. Quite a few good movies could have been made of this material, including the relationship between Scarlet and Rae — given the real-life instances we’ve heard of in which straight-edge kids have had to deal with drinking and drugging parents, including doing their level best to save them from their addictions, it’s a wonder Lifetime hasn’t done more with that as a situation — and also whether Lily still has any desires towards her old “wild” lifestyle (though this film follows the tradition of 1930’s exploitation movies like Reefer Madness in warning viewers away from the demi-monde by making the demi-monde seem simply too boring to bother with) and whether that creepy, self-righteously “moralistic” dad of hers secretly has an incestuous itch for her bod. But subtleties like that were pretty much beyond the level of micro-talents like Seth Jarrett, Danny Abel and Blake Berris!