Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these misguided efforts for what they fail at achieving and what they manage to do right.
This week: TalHotBlond
The Lifetime movie is a special genre all its own. As my Tread Perilously podcast partner Justin Robinson puts it, they are horror movies geared toward women. Consequently, many of their films are straight horror pictures while others use the formal concerns of the horror movie to tell stories of “every-day” horrors like infidelity or identity theft. And, yes, they often revolve around murder as well. In the days of the studio system, these sorts of scripts would have been called melodramas. Not as a pejorative, mind, but as classification. Some of the best movies of that period were women-focused melodramas (if you’ve never seen Bette Davis in Now, Voyager, do so at your earliest convenience). In some ways, TalHotBlond, your cheesy weekend movie for this week, follows in the tradition of the studio melodrama while still following many of the conventions of the Lifetime original movie. As it turns out, the intersection of those two forms is a film which straddles the line between cheese and legitimately good filmmaking.
The plot concerns one Thomas Montgomery (Garrett Dillahunt), a former marine who spends his days working at an abrasives factory and coaching his little girls’ swim team. He and his wife Carol (Laura San Giacomo) seems pretty set in their ways while eking out a reasonable living somewhere in Michigan. Thomas moreso as the thought of missing his once-a-month poker night with the guys from work gives him the shakes. But his poker buddies tell him he can hang out with them every night if he signs up for an account at All Betz Off, an online casino. Thrilled to learn about this new-fangled internet gambling, Thomas signs on the next night and almost immediately receives a private message from someone using the screenname “TalHotBlond.”
Since the film was made just before the release of Catfish, we’ll avoid using that film’s title as a verb. But if you suspect “TalHotBlond” might be someone other than a tall, hot blond, you might be right.
To Thomas, she’s Katie Brooks, an 18-year-old girl from Indiana who becomes interested in Thomas thanks to his screenname, “MarineSniper.” She even sends him a photo of herself in a bikini to prove her screenname is no put on. The next night, Thomas scans in a photo of himself from his military days in order to pass himself off as a 22-year-old recruit named Tommy. The two begin an internet courtship complete with cybering, panties in the mail and a promise to get married. The whole thing inspires Thomas to get back into shape and write a baffling note in which he tries to will himself back into his 22-year-old form. It’s kind of pathetic, particularly as Thomas and his wife haven’t had sex in ages.
When Carol finally accepts the idea that he might be having an affair, she discovers the truth on his password protected laptop. The password? “Semper fi.” Faced with the horror that Thomas is stepping out without leaving the house, she informs Katie by mail that her “Tommy” is really a 47-year-old father of two.
Thomas is forced to live in the garage while his best friend from work, Brian (Brando Eaton), begins chatting up Katie at the poker website. And despite the truth being out there, Thomas gets real miffed at Katie for sparking a friendship with Brian. The apparent love triangle sends the film into its most horror-tinged moments and into a surprising conclusion; even if you work it out, the details will still leave you with a cold chill.
Which is definitely the charm of TalHotBlond. Superbly directed by Courteney Cox, it builds up a momentum as Thomas’s choices get crazier and crazier. Curiously, the film breaks Lifetime convention by focusing on Thomas rather than Carol, but both actors are just so good in their roles that you hardly notice the atypical reversal in protagonist.
Or, at least, Thomas is meant to be the protagonist until he starts lying to Katie, which is another interesting element of the film. Many Lifetime movies make if very clear with lighting, dialogue or music who you are supposed to be siding with, but TalHotBlond suggests Thomas’s rut in the early part of the film needs to change. Unfortunately, his way of breaking the routine leaves the movie at odds with him; almost as though Cox added an extra layer to a potentially rote script. But once Thomas makes the flip, Carol never really steps up as the new protagonist either. Instead, she never stops being a real person in a terrible situation.
As mentioned earlier, San Giacomo is truly wonderful as Carol. She does a great job with what might be an otherwise underwritten part. Dillahunt is also superb as the often pathetic Thomas. His near-whines for absolution when Carol learns the truth feel so authentic that you might feel a little embarrassed watching the scene. In fact, it is possible to watch TalHotBlond as a legitimate drama because of the quality of their work and how well they carry a potentially salacious and hackneyed film.
But with all the ways I’m talking it up, you might be wondering where the cheese comes in. In the end, TalHotBlond is still a TV movie bound by a number of the limitations imposed by the format. Though well-shot, the cheapness occasionally creeps in. Thomas and Katie’s first chat session feels like it covers a week’s worth of getting to know you in a matter of minutes; a necessity thanks to the short runtime. Other than Brian, Thomas’s work pals drop from the narrative once Katie is introduced. And, ultimately, the underling story and its “beware the internet” subtext feel extremely cheesy despite the quality of filmmaking and performances on display.
Which brings us back to the melodramatic and horror conventions of Lifetime movies. TalHotBlond manages to use both traditions in a satisfying and surprising way. Just as you can watch it as a legit drama, it still also plays as a funny and sometimes over-the-top TV movie. You’ll laugh about a cliched scene as it begins only to marvel seconds later as the performers breath new life into hoary old staples of the Lifetime genre. It’s a truly remarkable feat of movie-making and, possibly, the most upscale cheese you’ll see this year.
TalHotBlond is available on DVD for budget prices. The documentary it is based upon, also called TalHotBlond, is available for rent on the usual streaming platforms.
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