Sunday, December 6, 2009

Volunteering Will Get You Shot In The Face

Those of you wondering where your reviews are: I got the stomach flu! Hooray for life! It's difficult to get together the stamina to watch and review terrible TV movies when you have the flu, especially when you fall asleep in the middle of them and have to start over. Talk about adding insult to influenza. Since Safe Harbor was on my streaming Netflix queue, it required the least amount of effort to view, so it got bumped up in the setlist. It's the story of a grieving widow, her daughter, the creepy overbearing stranger who wants to fix their lives, and the dangers of volunteering. I am not kidding: Danielle Steele thinks that working with people in need is a quick path to an early grave. But we'll get to that later.

The first half of the movie is pretty dull. Melissa Gilbert is Ophelia MacKenzie (gack), a widow with a terrible French accent and some big-time hangups re: the death of her husband and their son. She blames herself for their deaths because she committed the cardinal sin of the Lifetime movie mother and sent them on a trip because she needed some space. Naturally, they die in a fiery airplane explosion and she goes into a catatonic state of grief. Her daughter Pip, a precocious consolation prize, just wants her mom to stop being so mopey and start having fun again. Ophelia moves them to their oceanside vacation home to sulk in a nicer environment. Will Ophelia get her groove back? Like all Lifetime movies, the answer comes on the broad, hairy back of a possessive man!

Side note: Someone please write How Ophelia Got Her Groove Back. I can't be the only English/Women's Studies nerd who would love that.

Matt Bowles is a recent divorcee who lives in the same resort complex. He spends all day sitting on the beach, painting, and looking wistful as his chest hair puffs in the wind. He takes a weird interest in Pip, calling her over and showing her how to sketch and complementing her on things that are creepy for an older dude to notice. Ophelia notices their uncomfortable closeness, and like any good mother would, tells him to back off. But that's the wrong answer, according to the movie and her erstwile galpal. According to her stupid friend, it's a good thing that a weird guy is following Opie's pubescent daughter around, and she should probably go ahead and fuck the guy now before someone else notices how great he is. The movie gets weirder from there, as Opie and Bill get to be good buddies and Pip and Bill cross all kinds of uncomfortable boundaries. I would like to say the worst part is when Bill takes Pip to a school dance, but that pales in comparison to Bill's Christmas gift for Opie: a portrait of her two children. Yes, Bill stole a photo of Opie's dead son from her bedside table and painted him alongside the remaining living child. BILL IS A NURTURING NUTJOB. DANGER, DANGER OPHELIA MACKENZIE. Not really, it's a Lifetime movie. It's just a countdown until she decides she loves his bossy, boring ass, and until she does the movie trundles on like a gutshot deer looking for a clearing in which to die.

In the meantime, Opie's therapist convinces her it's time to get out there and start working in her community to help her deal with her grief in a constructive way. This isn't an uncommon suggestion for people who struggle with long term depression, and for many people it's actually a great way to start making the human connections that draw you out of your sad blue shell. However, this is a Lifetime movie! Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria! (I couldn't resist.) Volunteering is set up as a terrifying whirlwind of middle-class nightmares from the get-go. Apparently, a sheltered mumbly lady with a terrible fake accent who has been volunteering with poor people for a whole week has all the skills necessary to go out 5 times a week and work with poor homeless kids. And oh my GOD is it offensive. Every single non-white person in the movie is either a volunteer or a vagrant, and the implication is every time she's within spitting distance of either one of them she's a heartbeat away from certain death The shots of Opie doling out blankets with this air of pained noblesse oblige are vomit-inducing, as is the praise heaped on her shoulders for her continuing stellar work as White Lady Jesus. Goddamn do I hate watching a movie where some pissant wearing bling that's worth more then my car get turned into Lady Madonna because she schlepped some soup. Fuck you, movie.

(Okay, I'm a big time volunteer booster, so here's my disclaimer: YAY VOLUNTEERS! Like in every other thing, Lifetime Movies are not reflections of real life. Volunteers who work hard for non-profits are their lifeblood, and we love them! If you really want to help your community, please get out there and do it. It's always appreciated.)

But Bill is angry about her volunteer work, because it is so dangerous to spend time with people in a low-income demographic that she will surely be killed! Because poor people are violent and unstable and live to eat the flesh of those who shop at Croft and Barrel! And guess what? HE IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! She gives in to his pleas to quit, and at her last night on the site she gives this annoying speech about how she was volunteering because the hole in her heart, but now that hole is filled with Bill, so she doesn't need to volunteer anymore. HOORAY! POVERTY IS CANCELED BECAUSE YOU DON'T NEED IT ANYMORE! THANKS, WHITE LADY JESUS! A few minutes later a homeless guy shoots her in the stomach for no discernible reason, and she's off to the ICU. What fucking planet are you from, Danielle Steele? He visits her in the hospital, they are super-in love and decide to get married, whatever.

Bestest subplot ever- it turns out that Opie's only friend was helping her husband cheat on her! Opie finds out, tosses a hissy, and orders the galpal out of her site. She resurfaces about 6 months later with a baby in her arms and terminal cancer. She reveals that she has cervical cancer, which she is sure that God gave her as a punishment for her infidelity, and that she wants Opie to adopt the baby as it is rightfully hers. Opie agrees that all of this is probably true, and we end up with another baby + wedding ending. Is this a common theme with Danielle Steele movies or what?

So, let's summarize: you should not volunteer because you may die, and you definitely shouldn't sleep with a married man lest the Lord decides to rot off your naughty bits with divine justice. However, nurturing a stranger's Henry Darger-esque idealization of your daughter is a good way to meet Mr. Right. WHAT.

AWESOMENESS: 10 (out of 20)
I'm going to give this one a few more awesome points because it was just so fucking weird and crazy. After we got over the first hour blahs I was pretty much on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what weird new twist in the fabric of reality was going to justify the self-absorbed idiocy of the leading lady. It was kind of like watching The Twilight Zone and trying to guess what weird crap is going on just off camera that makes everyone so afraid of the cute little kid in the diner.

STAR POWER: 4 (out of 10)
Melissa Gilbert was the voice of Batgirl in Batman: The Animated Series! Oh, and she starred in the Little House on the Prairie TV show for a hundred years. 3 bat-points for Melissa. Brad Johnson starred in those damn Left Behind movies, so thanks for another point, Kirk Cameron.

LIFETIMELINESS: 9 (out of 10)
White Lady Jesus Christ Superstar! One point deducted for her only female friend turning out to be a traitorous bitch. That's not cool, girlfriend.

23 points. This seems to be the sweet spot for these movies. Next up: Palomino!


Daniel said...


Leigh C. said...

I think you reviewing this movie presents a conflict of interest, being a filthy 'community organizer' and all. danielle steele is clearly trying to do the white ladies of the world a great service with this awesome movie/PSA.

Julie said...

I love this blog. I just discovered it and although I haven't watched nearly any of these movies, I'm hooked. (Plus, I never knew of the dangers of volunteering, so already I've learned a valuable life lesson.)

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