Monday, March 2, 2015

Babysitter’s Black Book (Johnson Production Group, Shadowlands, Lifetime, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was Babysitter’s Black Book, the much-ballyhooed Lifetime “world premiere” from the weekend before the one that concluded yesterday, and it was a production I’d wanted to watch because I thought it would offer some good clean dirty fun. It did, sort of, but whereas Kept Woman was better than I expected Babysitter’s Black Book wasn’t as good, and it’s hard to put my finger (no pun intended) on why. The premise: Ashley (Spencer Locke) is a fiercely ambitious high-school senior in southern California who’s determined to get into business school either at UC Berkeley or the prestigious (and very expensive) private Pressman University (fictitious, though I suspect it’s supposed to be Stanford). She’s already started a business of her own, a combination babysitting and tutoring service called “Family Buddies,” and has enlisted several of her classmates including Rachel (Angeline Appel), Janet (Lauren York) and Gilli (pronounced “Jillie”) (Steffani Brass). Only Ashley discovers that because of their own financial problems, including the closure of the store her mom used to run, her parents have wiped out her college fund and she has no way to afford to go to a prestigious university even if she gets admitted to one. Rachel mentions to her that one of Family Buddies’ clients — the male member of a couple whose kids she sits and tutors — offered her $350 to have sex with him, and with Ashley’s teachers telling her that she should grow her business by offering additional services, Rachel enlists the other members of Family Buddies to turn tricks and thereby get the money to put themselves through college.

Janet takes to prostitution like the proverbial duck to water, Gilli stays out of the whole thing (she’s an aspiring artist who’s trying to raise the money to go to art school) and Ashley finds herself not so much a prostitute as a mistress; Mark (Ryan McPartlin), a trial attorney and the husband of one of her best Family Buddies clients, offers to pay her way into Pressman (he’s an alumnus) if she’ll have an affair with him. She feels a little guilty because she gets along with Mark’s wife Linda (Perrey Reeves), but ultimately she goes along with the whole deal and they have a hot weekend together which director Lee Friedlander (any relation to Louis Friedlander, a.k.a. Lew Landers, who launched a thousand tacky “B” movies during the 1930’s and 1940’s?) shoots in full-out soft-core porn style that’s by far the most interesting part of this movie. Then Ashley has an attack of conscience and wants to break it off, but Mark sends her a threatening text saying he’ll “out” her to her parents if she doesn’t continue to see him. Rachel gives her the word that she’s organizing a weekend pool party at which rich men will pay up to $1,000 for their sexual services, and Ashley is willing to go along — but when it comes time to do the down ’n’ dirty with Walker (Jeff L. Williams), she walks out. Later she arranges another tryst with Walker on her own, but bolts when Walker brings in another woman, Tiffany (Paula Roman), and wants to photograph the two girls kissing each other and getting it on in the sort of mock version of Lesbianism that seems to turn some straight guys on. (The actual Lesbians I’ve talked to on the subject assure me that what passes for girl-on-girl action in porn aimed at straight men has virtually nothing in common with what Lesbians really do in bed together.) The whole thing comes crashing down when Harper (Ashley Dulaney), a 1-percent girl (but then what’s she doing in a public high school?) who thought her admission to Pressman was guaranteed until Ashley came along and aced her on grades and essays, gets her revenge — it seems that Walker is her uncle and she saw Ashley at her uncle’s place, put two and two together, and used that to blackmail Ashley: either withdraw from Pressman and open Harper’s place back up or Harper will “out” her prostitution ring to the police, the school authorities and the media. The local paper publishes a story (front-page but below the fold) called “High School Hookers?” and the excrement strikes the air conditioning big-time; a hatchet-faced assistant district attorney (Natalie Salins) throws the book at the girls in general and Rachel in particular — Rachel gets sentenced to 10 months in prison, the other girls get probation and the customers, including Mark, are forced to register as sex offenders and take parenting classes if they ever expect to see their kids again.

There’s a certain degree of social commentary in this movie — the 1-percenters pretty much get away with it (Harper, the whistleblower, not only gets into Pressman but wins the spot as class valedictorian that had originally gone to Ashley until the scandal broke) and the not-so-rich girls end up back where America’s increasingly inflexible class system says they belong — a tag scene introduced by a title “Eight Months Later” shows Ashley working as a coffeehouse barista and going to community college, a fate she had once dreaded — but writers Richard Kletter and Michelle Samit aren’t interested in parlaying their sex story into an exposé of the class war the makers of the brilliant Lifetime movie Restless Virgins did. If anything, Babysitter’s Black Book affected me in bringing to the fore my decidedly mixed feelings about sex for money — why shouldn’t it be legal? Mark’s actions with Ashley got him into trouble only because she was just 17; had she been a year older his actions might have been reprehensible but at least they would have been legal, and if a woman can sell her sexual services to one man wholesale (which, as the second-wave feminists of the 1970’s noted, is what traditional marriage basically is), why shouldn’t she have the right to sell them to several men retail? Instead the writers and director Friedlander go for the tawdriest, most exploitative angles of their story, giving us (or at least any straight guys who might stumble onto this show) delectable glimpses of all that jail bait in scanty bikinis and tawdry outfits that, as one of the characters jokes in the movie, makes it look like they raided Rihanna’s wardrobe. Babysitter’s Black Book skims over the moral and class-struggle aspects of the tale to offer some choice titillation that isn’t all that titillating — especially when the men the Family Buddies girls are selling themselves to look so much hotter than the high-school kids they’re expected to date; Doug Noble, who plays Danny — Ashley’s would-be high-school boyfriend (she’s tutoring him, he wants to fuck her but she won’t let him) — looks cute enough and in about 10 years or so he’ll probably be really sexy, but right now Ryan McPartlin has it all over him in the looks department and there’s no doubt which of them I would pick if I had the chance!