Fun fact: If you happen to mention on Twitter that an upcoming Lifetime movie features a large amount of gratuitous lesbian vampire sex, people way outside the traditional Lifetime movie demo suddenly have questions about when it airs.
That is exactly what actor/writer/director/IndieWire contributor James Franco is counting on as the executive producer of this weekend’s “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” remake. But is there also a deeper meaning to his madness?
The original “Mother” was relatively simple — a bad boy came to town and seduced baby Tori Spelling, “Vertigo”-ing her haircut before descending into true villainy. But this new film swaps an emotionally manipulative boyfriend for a lady vampire who’s just hoping to find the true love that will help her escape her bloodlust and…
Look, it’s weird.
Short version of the plot (based on a story by Franco, who also plays a supporting role): Pearl (Emily Meade) has been inducted into a “nightwalker” cabal largely against her will, but if she can connect with true love, she’ll no longer have to prey upon the living to slack her thirst. Fortunately, she seems to have found a soulmate in new lover/aspiring actress Leah (Leila George).
But while Pearl is a genuinely sympathetic character, Leah’s mother Julie (Tori Spelling) does not approve. At first, that’s because of her conservative values, but later, after some investigation, Julie senses that her daughter – wait for it – might be sleeping with danger…
On the surface, that’s not too complicated. But even giving one additional moment of thought to the film’s thematic implications is brain-exploding on a “Scanners” level, because quite sincerely, the premise feels like a legitimate dare from Franco to critics. How are we meant to interpret a remake of a famous example of the prototypical “Lifetime movie,” where the deranged male stalker has been substituted with a loving female partner who also just so happens to be a “nightwalker”? What the hell does that mean? It’s like the anti-angle, actively defying interpretation, demanding that we look deeper into the abyss even though sometimes a pipe is just a pipe…
That’s it: James Franco has found a way to make Lifetime movies into Dadaist art. In this way, he has exceeded the ambitions of last year’s “A Deadly Adoption,” Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig’s failed attempt to secretly make a Lifetime movie. The reason why “Mother” works better than “Adoption” is easy to grasp: “A Deadly Adoption” leaned way too hard in its efforts to ape the generic Lifetime thriller that the original “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” epitomized. Meanwhile, with this new sort of “Mother,” Franco is truly pushing the boundaries of what you might presume this network to be capable of.
Two years ago, that’d be unimaginable for this network. But if you were to anthropomorphize the modern-day Lifetime, the best metaphor would be to see it as a once-shackled woman bored by routine, but now unleashed and ready to cut loose. (Which would actually be the beginning of a pretty compelling Lifetime movie, in retrospect.)
Sure, the network still runs its standard reality fare, but it’s been making baby steps towards more compelling content since 2014’s “The Lottery” (an under-appreciated dystopian drama series). And right now, the second season of “UnREAL” is one of the summer’s best and most daring shows, across the board.
Now, one of the network’s most iconic films has now been “reinterpreted” as a lesbian vampire love story. That, honestly, is the hardest part to accept. If you strip the remake aspect of this project from your consciousness, it’s actually a pretty watchable film – as lesbian vampire movies go. “Mother” comes with solid direction from Melanie Aitkenhead and a tight script by Amber Coney. The script might be a little too tight, actually, moving awfully fast through major plot beats, but there’s an interesting twist when it comes to the casting of a theatrical production of “MacBeth”… and also, yes, there are lesbian vampires and they have a lot of sex on screen.
Even if we were to get a full and coherent explanation from James Franco about why this “Mother” remake exists, it probably wouldn’t make the actual film any better. And there’s a part of me that likes the fact that it just exists, in all its ridiculousness.
But there is one sequence which proves difficult to engage with, and perhaps it’s because it’s the most grounded of the film. When Leah tries to tell her mother that the girl she’s brought home for dinner isn’t just a friend, but her girlfriend, it leads to the sort of brutal coming-out scene that feels more in tune with 1996 than 2016. (Yes, Julie has a right to be concerned, but c’mon.)
The clear takeaway — like most things in this world that rely on an absurd sensibility in order to be truly appreciated — is that honest human emotion has no place in this sort of scenario. Especially given that, yes, the real danger Leah faces with her lover has nothing to do with the fact that Pearl is a woman — it’s that she’s a vampire. But we’ve recently been hit hard by the reminder that homosexuality on its own non-vampire terms can still be seen as threatening. It’s the hardest part of this blood-soaked story to watch.
Because that’s also when it become hard to enjoy “Mother” as a Dadaist farce, especially given the earnestness with which its leads engage both with each other and the narrative. Perhaps a film called “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” shouldn’t be a love story, but that’s what this is. It titillates, and it baffles, and it may be ultimately a terrible idea.
But, yeah, we told you about the lesbian vampires. So we get why you’re gonna watch.
“Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” premieres Saturday, June 18 at 8pm on Lifetime.