Some crimes, by their very nature, become imprinted upon the pop culture psyche. Some salacious detail, some head-scratching alibi, some bizarre circumstance, elevates what is by any sane metric a tragedy into a culture-wide joke. These are the crimes that Lifetime likes to adapt. And why not? Brand recognition is the single most powerful force driving blockbuster production, and the same principle works for true crime potboilers on basic cable. Fortunately for the Lifetime network, the case of Jodi Arias had all of the above, and fortunately for me, they decided to go completely fucking bananas in bringing her story to the screen.
The movie opens with what looks like an impromptu sex tape, complete with changing angles that the two people in the video couldn’t be catching… thus implying the existence of a horny gnome. Some tiny person is scampering over the writhing bodies, trying to get the best angle without actually showing any of the naughty bits, and I’m going to assume it’s an Amish-bearded, pointy cap-wearing gnome, because you can’t control me, Mom. It’s not the first movie to require a horny gnome to make sense, or even the first Lifetime movie, but it does allow me to add the Horny Gnome Implication to my rapidly-expanding list of Bad Movie Theories.
So after this afternoon delight, we go right to a bloody crime scene. It’s a seriously bloody crime scene, too. Like someone sacrificed a fatted calf to Baal at the start of the rainy season. The movie was hitting a checklist right there up front as though to prove the viewer discretion — that’s right, we get one of those on a Lifetime movie — was not lightly given.
Boy howdy it is not. Just assume, for legal and sanity purposes, when I’m throwing out names of real people, I’m adding in there “as depicted in the Lifetime movie.” I don’t know what Jodi Arias is like in real life. Ditto for Travis Alexander or any of his apple-cheeked milk-swilling friends. I’m sure everyone is delightful. So when I start a sentence with, “Jodi Arias has the kind of rocky home life and absent father that guarantees her most viable career option will be ‘shallow grave,’” I’m not talking about a real person here. Or maybe I am. Maybe this shit is a documentary.
Right, so Jodi Arias takes one look at motivational speaker Travis Alexander and decides that he needs to be inside her immediately, if not sooner. She even follows him into the bathroom to talk at him. One problem: Travis is a Mormon, and he’s not supposed to be into that kind of thing. Turns out, he really is. Before you can say “Brigham Young,” he and Jodi are having the kind of sex that human traffickers teach you about before long trips. There’s a throwaway line where one of his pals mentions that Travis refers to Jodi as his “Three-Hole Wonder.” Of course, the big problem is that Travis is ashamed of having what is either a fuck-buddy or a horny girlfriend, so Jodi becomes an open secret. A dirty little open secret. Title!
Eventually, Jesus wins over amazing sex. He dumps Jodi and hooks up with wholesome Katie. They do crazy things like not kissing and falling asleep on the couch while watching Disney movies. It makes me a little physically ill. Jodi doesn’t take this lying down, and completely flips her lid, leading to one of the greatest moments in Lifetime movie history. Set to the tune of Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life,” one of the most ridiculously bombastic (and possibly Christian) songs in existence, Jodi straight up stalks Travis like he’s an antelope on the Serengeti… wearing a bike helmet and telling unsuspecting bystanders about Kolob. It’s hard to even know what Lifetime makes of this either. Travis’s hypocrisy in using Jodi for sex but eschewing a deeper commitment are on display, but on the other hand, she’s stalking him to Evanescence. Is this a you go girl moment or a ma’am could you please vacate the premises moment? No one knows, and that’s why Lifetime is so very wonderful.
Jodi’s behavior gets more and more erratic as she breaks into Travis’s house and photographs that impromptu sleepover (then decorating a mirror in a collage), leaving harassing notes with religious overtones on Katie’s car, and, oh yeah, firing an empty gun at a wall. She manages to get Travis back briefly (which is the horny gnome scene from the beginning), but after an inflammatory text from Katie (who mentions that Travis said Jodi was “only good for one thing” which is totally unfair considering her nickname had the number three in it), Jodi goes into the shower, stabs Travis to death, cuts his throat down to the bone, and shoots him in the head. I’m not sure Jodi knows the difference between Mormons and zombies.
The investigation is laughably quick, with Dexter’s David Zayas discovering a photograph in a damaged camera of the murder in progress. This blows a hole (though at least not three) in Jodi’s whole “ninjas did it” alibi, and she’s quickly convicted. The film ends with a note that Arizona is having another trial to see if she deserves the death penalty.
This movie is a spiritual cousin with the similarly muddled Blue-Eyed Butcher. Jodi is held out as a sex-crazed freak, an irresponsible hardbody who is apparently allergic to cloth touching her ass-cheeks. She seems like the kind of character that exists for Lifetime viewers to cluck their tongues disapprovingly at. Travis doesn’t fare any better, though. While it’s tough for me to see him sympathetically, I guess you can see him as a man torn between faith and venal desires. Really, the movie (and me) sees him as a hypocrite who wants to use a fragile and desperate young woman for sex, then throw her away as the very acts he uses her for render her unsuitable for marriage. It’s that gross bro-logic, the noxious double-standard that permeates the culture, and here it’s hidden behind the veneer of religion, that magic veil that you’re never allowed to question. “No, I don’t hate women. My religion says this, and you have to respect that.” Then again, Jodi Arias is clearly fucking crazy, so maybe he made the right call but for the wrong reasons.
The weirdness started from the beginning. Jodi is played here by Tania Raymonde, who might be most famous as Alex in Lost, but will always be Malcolm’s quirky admirer in Malcolm in the Middle. I know it’s unfair to her — she’s a working actor, she needs gigs. But I have trouble seeing someone I associate with a sweet, funny, and extremely underaged character prancing around in lingerie. As Lifetime performances go, she does good work, though. There’s an element of wild-eyed obsession to her line readings that gives every scene, no matter how innocuous, a livewire energy.
So what did we learn? Religion is important! There’s a lot of institutionalized sexism there, and hell, in the culture at large that gets foisted on religion because if God thinks it, it can’t be wrong. Also, maybe don’t make comments like “I’ll eventually marry a Mormon” to your unhinged non-Mormon girlfriend. And don’t stab, almost decapitate, and shoot people. That sucks too.