It’s always unsettling when you get one of your own prejudices thrown in your face. It was probably inevitable that some of my personal sexism would get revealed at some point. I’m just glad what was revealed doesn’t have its origins with my Lifetime obsession. That would have been awkward. No, the downright weird assumptions I make about relationships were revealed by 2015‘s Driven Underground, and were not the fault of the Lifetime Movie Network.
When star Kristy Swanson (yes, that Kristy Swanson) meets the rugged-yet-sensitive love interest in the wilds of Bend, Oregon, I thought I was seeing another ten year gap between partners like we saw in Into Dangerous Territory. Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that — male actors consistently get a pretty gross age gap in movies, postulating an entire parallel universe filled with nothing but explosions and child brides. I took one look at Swanson and Squinty McWranglers, and rendered my verdict. Then I checked with IMDB, because if I’m going to write about Lifetime movies, by god I’m going to be factually correct, and I learned that there was no age gap. Both actors were born in 1969.
My assumption that Swanson was much older is at least partially because she has been part of my life for a long time. We don’t know each other or anything, but I probably first saw her at the end of Pretty in Pink for her tacked-on happy ending for Duckie, or her brief appearance in Ferris Bueller. She made the biggest impression, though, in the ads for the bizarre Wes Craven flick Deadly Friend, which were ubiquitous in the backs of comic books in 1986. I was probably first conscious of Kristy Swanson as a specific individual the way most people were, as the originator for what is now a pop culture icon: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Because Swanson has been a part of the mass consciousness for so long she seems older. And not in a bad way, either. There’s a lot of affection for her. Swanson is always welcome.
There’s also that age gap going the other way. We’re used to seeing actors in their forties and fifties romancing women half their age. So when Jennifer Lawrence, still pudgy with baby fat, is paired off with a bald and puffy Christian Bale, it’s gross, and we complain about it, but it’s already wormed its way into our subconscious. Women who have any sign of age, from crow’s feet to gray hair, get edited right out of pop culture, replaced with the next generation with tighter skin and a youthful glow. I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but show business consumes and discards women so callously it qualifies as a slightly more sociopathic version of Hannibal Lecter.
So when I was confronted with two people with the exact same mileage on them, I assumed the woman was ten years older than the man. Men are, after all, allowed to age, while women are forced to grip white-knuckled onto inevitably fading signs of youth. For women, youth and beauty are synonyms, while men get to grow into terms like “silver fox.” There’s a lot going on here, both culturally and adaptationally, but at the end of the day, it made me sexist. Thanks a lot, life.
It’s a shame that this brought me into a long, dark night of the soul, because as Lifetime movies go, it’s not bad. It shares a lot of DNA with Into Dangerous Territory, though sadly none of that is a cocaine bear. What am I going to have to do to get a Lifetime movie about a coke-addled bear? Write the damn thing myself?
While out on a run, young Christy witnesses a mob execution. Confusingly, Christy is the daughter of Kristy Swanson’s character. I feel like they should have changed the name when they cast Swanson. Anyway, the mob starts threatening Christy, and eventually the killer just shows up at the house to kill them both. Christy channels some of that genetic vampire-slaying, knocking the guy down the stairs with what looks like a flagpole, and the two women escape, holing up in a cabin in that part of Bend that looks exactly like Vancouver, British Columbia. Speaking as someone who has relatives in Bend, that would be absolutely none of it.
The guy next door keeps horses, has a great cowboy squint, and only owns clothing that’s either plaid or denim, so I’m pretty sure he was genetically engineered by a Lifetime focus group. He shows interest in Christy (not in a gross way), teaching her how to ride horses and not be quite so much of a city girl. Kristy Swanson’s husband is dead, so she’s about ready to get back up on the horse (not in a gross way), and Squinty seems like the perfect guy to start with.
The problem is, the mob has an inside man. Detective Boyce (played by Lochlyn Munro, and answering the question, “Hey, what happened to Lochlyn Munro?”) seems like he’s in the pocket of the mob so he can send his daughter to private school. Which is really weird, because the opening of the film establishes the city as a combination of Robocop, The Warriors, and Death Wish, with “gangs” running roughshod over law enforcement. The problem is, this is still a Lifetime movie, so we’re shooting in the same clean, well-lit rooms as always, and any houses are going to be suburban McMansions. Lifetime doesn’t do gritty.
Even when the whole thing ends up with Kristy Swanson holding a shotgun on a dirty cop and a mob hitman. There’s something bizarrely wholesome about the whole situation, as if they just set down their guns, everyone could go inside and have a nice hot chocolate. Still, any Lifetime movie that features a mob execution like something in Miller’s Crossing is a bit grittier than their standard offerings. Even if it spends a large, saggy middle section focusing on the burgeoning relationship between two people in their forties, clean country living, and the particulars of equine care.
So what did we learn? Well, institutional sexism can get in your head without even knowing it. Avoid using your cell phone if you’re being hunted by the mob. And if you think the cops are in on it, they probably are.