There’s an element of hubris in my reviewing Lifetime’s most recent release, A Deadly Adoption. By the time this post is published, more virtual ink will be spilled over this than any Lifetime movie ever. Yet I’ve carved out a regular feature on this blog for learning big important lessons from pop culture flotsam, and I can’t let the most buzzed-about Lifetime movie pass unremarked on.
When it leaked that Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig were making a Lifetime movie, visions danced in all of our heads of the truly insane parody these two would come up with. The writer, Andrew Steele, the same guy behind Casa de mi Padre and Ferrell’s pitch-perfect send up of late-‘70s prestige miniseries The Spoils of Babylon, only cemented that. What we all forgot is that comedians, at their core, are trolls. They do things that make them laugh and nothing makes them laugh harder than an unexpected prank.
It’s pretty easy to see their intent. Ferrell and Wiig didn’t want anyone to know about A Deadly Adoption. The whole point of it was to be something people stumbled upon organically and wondered what the hell was going on, or at least when two of the funniest people alive would make with the comedy. By leaking, it turned into an event, which ironically enough made it a non-event. It was no longer an odd little curio randomly found by Lifetime stalwarts and bored people at home on a Saturday. Now it was two movie stars no doubt making a perfect parody of a Lifetime movie that would double as the must-see comedy of 2015.
But here’s the thing: they were not making a parody of a Lifetime movie. They were making a Lifetime movie.
And, to their credit, it’s nigh perfect. From subtle things like the bright lighting, the stagey direction, and the musical cues, to the more meta elements like stilted performances from aging stars. Even the script is Lifetime-exact, where a couple suffers an easily-filmed and light-on-the-stuntwork tragedy, and brings a younger and hotter woman into the house to help complete the family. She turns out to be insane (of course) and forces this mild suburban couple into a deadly confrontation. The biggest problem with the movie is its saggy second act, when the novelty has worn off and the plot machinations begin to take over. Which is a problem more than one Lifetime movie suffers from.
When the predictable “oh this is so crazy” response came out the next day, complete with listicles celebrating the most ridiculous moments, I came to one escapable conclusion: most people don’t watch as much Lifetime as I do. And I have to live with this. Seriously, that synopsis sounded as familiar to both of my readers as it did to me when it unfolded. Why? Because it’s the plot of The Nightmare Nanny. Almost exactly, down to the character beats.
I’m not trying to go all Lifetime Hipster on you, mostly because if that’s a thing that exists, I might need to drink a gallon of turpentine. What I’m saying is that I believe Ferrell, Wiig, and Steele watched all of these and more in an effort to hew as close to a standard Lifetime movie as possible. They were so close to the formula that A Deadly Adoption, produced in part by the mad genius behind Anchorman and The Other Guys, isn’t even in the top five most insane Lifetime movies I’ve reviewed.
In fact, they’re so interested in playing it straight, Ferrell never gives one of his signature line readings. You know the ones, where he’s angry, upset, and maybe a little frightened by what’s going on around him. The closest he ever comes is when he periodically reminds his wife that their daughter Sully (named because they expect her to grow up into a beefy Bostonian stevedore, I guess), has a specific kind of diabetes. The jokes and homages are there, from the maddeningly vague awards for philanthropy that adorn Ferrell’s office, to Wiig’s organic fruit and bakery business, to the reassurance it’s all based on a true story. But they’re all subtle enough to miss, and targeted at those who understand the language of Lifetime.
The showiest performance belongs to Jessica Lowndes, who plays the dual-named (She turns out to be impersonating a woman she might have killed. See? Nightmare Nanny!) surrogate Bridget/Joni. Because she’s the crazy one, the nubile young woman invited into the house to wreck it, she’s allowed to go full Nicholson. She’s not bad, as these things go. A good Lifetime Villain Meltdown is a skill they can and should teach in acting classes.
The oddest part from the perspective of a Lifetime stalwart such as myself, is the fact that Ferrell is the star. Wiig is perhaps not as big a name, but she headlined a movie everyone still likes (Bridesmaids) and she delivers an unironically good performance in it, nailing both the big comedic moments and crafting a believable character. Yet Ferrell gets most of the hero parts. He rescues Wiig from a carbon monoxide trap in the garage (the shot of him holding her as the garage door rises is the movie’s best), overcomes his fear of water to pursue Lowndes after she’s kidnapped Sully (no doubt plying her with Natty Lite and Red Sox tickets), and even stands in the way of a speeding SUV. While it’s Wiig who ultimately kills the threat to her home, Ferrell is by far the more active of the two.
It’s also unusual in that Ferrell’s character actually does cheat on Wiig. After she lost the baby by falling into three feet of water — yes, ridiculous, but totally on par for Lifetime — Ferrell descended into alcoholism. He goes on a series of book tours which are apparently all in hilariously seedy bars. On one of these he meets and has sex with Lowndes, who of course gets pregnant and loses the baby. I’m guessing by falling onto a pond. Most of these movies are made with the reassurance that, don’t worry, no matter how enticing the young lady is in the house, no matter how much she may want to stake her claim, the man will remain true. While he was drunk, and Wiig forgives him, he did hit that.
So what did we learn? Don’t stand on rotten docks. Do a thorough background check on any hot young women you allow into your house. And always be familiar with the dangers of diabetic ketoacidosis.