This week’s entry into Lifetime Theater, the Courteney Cox-helmed Talhotblond is truly something special. As the final film an all-Lifetime Yakmala program, it electrified the room in the way that only the most insane movies can. It was so weird, so twisty, so deliriously unexpected, it led to an entire room of the most cynical, jaded, film-savvy viewers fruitlessly trying to guess the plot. And we could not do it. That’s right, the movie — incidentally based on a true story, proving you cannot write this shit — stymied our normally infallible plot-sensors. So before we get there, I want to step outside the context of the review and beg both my readers: just walk away from the computer and watch the movie. I will spoil it, and this madness is best experienced firsthand.
Okay, I’m going to assume everyone who wants to be gone is.
Talhotblond. Hoo boy. Here we go. On the surface, it’s a simple story about the most modern of concerns: that people online aren’t necessarily who they appear to be. Though the movie was released in 2012, the idea was already ingrained enough by 1997 that an early episode of Buffy had Xander reminding Willow that her online boyfriend might actually be an elderly Dutch woman. Now we have a whole name for this kind of thing, catfishing, based on a possibly staged (okay, totally, obviously staged) documentary. As a side note, I could go on an extended rant about how the fact that Catfish is staged is the whole goddamn point, but this is a review of the sublime joys to be found on the Lifetime network.
Thomas Montgomery (Garret Dillahunt, yes, that one) is the kind of man whose life didn’t quite turn out like he wanted it to, otherwise known as everyone on the planet. An ex-marine, an accident on the training field pushed him out of the service and into a dead end job cutting steel pipes. He has a wife, Carol (Laura San Giacomo), two daughters, and a dog. The bulk of his life is spent either at work or at various extracurricular for them. His sex life is so bad, Carol uses the line, “Want to try again?” And there is literally no less sexy way to offer sex. Seriously. I’ve tried. Any less sexy and you go right to creepy, which works on a certain kind of woman.
His version of “trying” amounts to him climbing on her like she’s a felled tree he plans to ride down the flooded river to safety. There’s no getting undressed, either. He angles up and plows in, and then just lies there, like he’s waiting for a million angels to do all the heavy lifting. Dude, I know you’re both fifty, but get her ready first. Put on some Foghat (always gets the ladies going) and play Pet the Man in the Boat. There’s a computer in the house! Google “clitoris” and let the world open up to you. Stan Marsh knows about the clitoris and he’s like eight. You have no excuse. Anyway, his only Me Time takes the form of a monthly poker game with his buddies from the plant. At one of these games, the guys mention they get together on a website to play poker, and Thomas reacts like, “What is this internet you speak of? Is it a form of sorcery?” The poor guy is totally flummoxed by the basic idea of computers, and they’re planning to throw him to a gambling website? Best case scenario, he’s going to get so much malware on that thing it’s turning into Skynet.
So what should happen on the very first time he plays with the guys? Some person with the oh-so-subtle screen name of “talhotblond” starts chatting with him. And it gets racy pretty quick when “she” sends him a picture of “herself” in a bikini. I’m “sorry” about all the “scare quotes” but even summarizing this movie is “hard.” Long story short, Thomas starts a torrid online affair with this person, who, as we learned from Buffy, might be an elderly Dutch woman or an omnicidal demon. He pretends to be himself at twenty, and oh yeah, his screen name is “marinesniper.” If I saw that name and I was… anybody, anybody at all, I would not get into any sort of emotional weirdness with that person. And this is nothing against the marines — my grandfather was in the corps and retired a Lt. Colonel — this is something against snipers. And more to the point, people who advertise being snipers. Sniping is an important job in the real world, or online (and stop fucking camping, Chet, it’s cheap and you know it), but you don’t use that as your name for the same reason that Jimmy the plumber doesn’t use the screen name “Poopsmasher.”
Now here’s when the film becomes harder to predict. The affair progresses, and Talhotblond sends Marinesniper a care package, which includes pictures (the most racy of which are more bikini shots), a note, and a pair of panties. Later, there’s even a phone call in which he proposes to her. You know, despite the fact that he has a wife and kids and such. It’s not too long before Carol hacks the computer while he’s at his game (his password was “semperfi” — well done, dude, might as well have used “swordfish”), and discovers the affair. She comes clean to Talhotblond, and puts Thomas in the doghouse. At this point, I’m baffled. At first I assumed naturally Talhotblond was a dude, but the phone call says it’s not. Plus, all the photos are clearly of the same young woman. At this point in my first viewing, I was spitting out ideas that involved clones, alien abductions, and hitchhiking ghosts.
Talhotblond transfers her affections over to Thomas’s poker buddy Brian (screen name “beefcake”), a young man getting ready to go off to college. He’s a bit of a cad, and the only one of the guys at the plant with any kind of future. While he romances Talhotblond, Thomas grows more and more unhinged, even after Carol finally forgives him. One weekend, when Brian is supposedly going to go see her (no idea how that was going to work, but these people seem to have no conception of the future), Thomas murders Brian. He’s caught pretty much instantly due to the miles and miles of motive in the form of chatlogs, emails, and even a fistfight the two guys had at work. It’s really the worst attempt at getting away with murder. In my favorite part, Thomas throws his laptop into a lake, like “That’ll teach you to internet!”
When the cops come to Talhotblond’s house to tell her Brian’s been shot, the girl from the pictures comes to the door. And I’m baffled. All my hypotheses hinged on that girl being some kind of catalog model. Then I see Molly Hagan as well, who is a fairly recognizable character actor with a career going back to the ‘80s. I say, “Oh look, Molly Hagan.” And Erik, who had seen this, goes, “And why would Molly Hagan be playing such a bit part?”
…and my world turned into the last scene of Usual Suspects. I’m not even kidding. If I had a coffee cup, I would have dropped it so it could artfully shatter on the floor. Every snippet of dialogue, every piece of evidence, all rattled through my head and I saw the whole thing. Even before they showed what happened, I saw it unfurl, and I was horrified. Thomas sees it a bit later when the arresting officers plunk a file down in front of him. “There’s your Talhotblond.” And it’s this picture of Molly Hagan, and she has this expression like, “C’mon. You had to know it wasn’t that cute blonde chick.”
So, yeah, Molly Hagan is a mom, and the pics she sent to these creeps she met on the internet are of her daughter. Gross, right? It gets worse. The panties actually belonged to her daughter too, stolen out of her underwear drawer! She couldn’t just buy a fresh pair? Nope, had to violate her kid just a tad more.
One of the funniest things about Talhotblond is that it’s actually pretty good. I mean, it’s silly, disposable trash, but it’s pretty good silly, disposable trash. Garret Dillahunt and Laura San Giacomo are both good to great actors, and they showed up to work. There’s no sleepwalking through this one. Courteney Cox (yep, that one) directed and produced — likely for some hands-on experience — and has a two scene cameo as Carol’s work pal. She actually makes the computer chatting scenes non-tedious, which is something that the big-budget Perfect Stranger couldn’t manage to do. The final twist did its job too, blowing everyone’s mind and instantly elevating Talhotblond to best-of Yakmala status.
What did we learn? Nothing, if you’re even slightly aware of the internet. But if you’re not, just assume whoever is talking to you is some kind of giant robot demon, that way if they’re not, you’re pleasantly surprised.