Sunday, May 13, 2018

Devious Nanny (MarVista Entertainment, Lifetime, 2018)

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

I watched the latest Lifetime movie, Devious Nanny, originally run last March (they’ve moved the night of their “premieres” from Saturday to Sunday and tonight they’re running an instant biopic of Prince Harry of Britain and his bride-to-be, divorced American actress Meghan Markle). I had to check my back files to make sure I hadn’t watched this one before — this has been a frequent Lifetime trope since 2000, when Christine Conradt made her writing debut for them with a script called The Perfect Nanny, and they’ve also done Psycho Nanny and Nanny Killer (though in that one the nanny was the good girl and the bad girl was a Mrs. Danvers-esque servant who also lived in the big house where she worked) as well as a few nasty stories about men doing that sort of job (the inelegant term is “manny,” which flummoxed Microsoft Word’s auto-correction system). Devious Nanny begins with an odd sequence in which a nubile young blonde is murdered by a mysterious assailant who strangles her on the kitchen floor; then the credits come up without giving us any idea of who these people are or why one of them is killing the other, though we assume that the murderess is the devious nanny, Amber Duchanel (Olesya Rulin), who will figure in the main plot. The main plot consists of advertising agent Brian Simon (Antonio Cupo, considerably hotter than the norm for a Lifetime husband) and his wife Elise (Michelle Borth, top-billed), who are in the market for a nanny — an “au pair,” as they call her (obviously we’re supposed to look askance at these people’s pretensions in using the French term!) — to be a household servant and also look after their son Cody (Matteo Oropeza). 

Brian has just landed his agency an account potentially worth $25 million a year, a huge step up, and he and his co-worker Vance Lipton (Michael Roark) whoop it up so enthusiastically at the news that it looks like the mysterious indiscretion Elise is still trying to forgive Brian for is not an affair with a woman but a secret Gay relationship with Vance. Actually, though, Vance is the sort of Duke of Mantua type who’ll have sex with anything as long as it’s alive, human and female, and he tries to get Brian to join him for a night on the town in which they’ll hang out at bars, drink a lot and pick up women for one-night stands — only Brian is too attentive to his marriage to take Vance up on it. Instead he heads home, though later there’s a party Brian and Elise throw to celebrate the new account, and there Vance makes some crude passes at Amber. Later the boss of his agency, Parsons — a woman Brian calls the “ice queen” because of her formidable demeanor — takes the account away from Brian and gives it to Vance. She says it’s because the client wants just one person responsible for the account, but later Brian learns that the real reason Vance got the account is he and Parsons are having an affair. This doesn’t stop Vance from tom-catting around, though, and the next time we see him he’s in a cheap motel room waiting for the prostitute he’s ordered — she shows up in an outrageously phony red wig, sort of like the shade Cyndi Lauper is wearing in those current commercials advertising a psoriasis treatment, and when he answers her knock she whips out a knife and stabs him in the chest. Later the art gallery Elise Simon owns is vandalized by a greedy developer, George Dutros (Nicholas Guest), who wants to cancel her lease so he can build condos on the site — only he gets his too, also from a knife to the chest, when he’s scouting a junkyard as another possible redevelopment site. 

The cops, in the person of African-American woman Detective Bennett (Erika Ringor) and her partner, white male Detective Scalise (Andrew Pagana) — if either of these characters had first names I don’t recall them being mentioned in Adam Rockoff’s script ­— target Brian Simon as their principal suspect in these murders, since he stood to gain the account back from eliminating Vance and his wife stood to gain by the death of Dutros — but we’re carefully led to believe that the Devious Nanny Amber Duchanel is the real culprit, especially after the wife traces Amber to the home of her friend and confidant Jax (Skyler Wright). Later she visits Jax and learns that Amber and Jax met at a group home for orphans — Amber’s parents died in a car crash when Amber was 10 — and were never adopted, and Amber faked her résumé to get the nanny job at the Simons’. After that, though, Jax also gets the mysterious knock on her door that admits a disguised assailant who fatally stabs her in the chest. The police by this time have decided Brian didn’t commit the murders and fasten on Amber as the likeliest suspect, and when Amber gets home she and Elise get into one of the nastiest and most bruising fistfights ever filmed between two women — judging from the way Elise handles herself, we get the impression she was a professional woman boxer before the married Brian and started the art gallery — and Elise looks like she’s about to strangle Amber to death when Brian gets back home and pulls his wife off her. This gives Amber a chance to escape, and then we get the big switcheroo [big-time spoiler alert!]: the real killer was Elise, who hired Amber because her husband had cheated with their previous nanny (and had once during the course of the film had sex with Amber himself in a nice soft-core porn scene of the type Lifetime used to do more of than they do now) and she decided that the way to win him back was knock off the previous nanny and then eliminate anyone who was in the way of either Brian’s or Elise’s economic well-being. 

Brian is horrified by the news and is ready to call the police to report his wife, but she says that if he does so he’ll lose his job, his house and his reputation and he’ll have to work menial jobs to support himself and Cody as a single father, while if he keeps quiet and stays with her no one will know and they’ll be able to go on with their successful lifestyle. Brian wavers a moment, in a scene that’s the only major acting challenge for Antonio Cupo in this film (otherwise he’s just been called on to walk around in various stages of scanty dress and flash an enviably large basket at the straight female and Gay male viewers), but he ultimately yields to his wife and they form an uneasy peace for six months, sort of like the Macbeths, until a deus ex machina arrives in the form of a flash drive containing a video from Amber, who has sent two copies — one to the Simons and one to the police — explaining the whole thing. The last scene shows Brian and Elise alone in their living room as we hear sirens from the cars of the police who are about to arrest them both. Devious Nanny is an O.K. Lifetime movie — Olesya Rulin doesn’t play perky-psycho anywhere nearly as well as Sydney Sweeney did in The Wrong Daughter (which they re-ran right after this), though perhaps that’s explicable because she’s supposed to be a decent, if rather twitchy, girl at the end, and the acting generally is a bit better than the Lifetime norm. But it’s still a melodramatic and overwrought melodrama, co-directed by Devon Downs and Kenny Gage in all-out neo-Gothic style and with a script by Adam Rockoff (“Rockoff” is almost as embarrassing a name for a Lifetime writer as “Kymlicka”!) that pushes the melodrama and sets us up for a “surprise” ending that’s really not that much of a surprise — maybe if they’d gone for the Lifetime set of clichés in which the husband and the nanny are having an affair and conspiring to frame the wife to get her money, it might have worked better.