USA Network’s “The Mary Kay Letourneau Story: All-American Girl” wastes a good opportunity to shed light on some really screwed up people. Despite Penelope Ann Miller’s eerie resemblance to Seattle’s infamous seductress, this factual telepic about the world’s most “giving” teacher offers little insight and is buried underneath overblown production values. Bloated aesthetics aside, there’s still something very fascinating about a whackjob delusional enough to fall for someone who collects Pokemon toys.
No recent case is riper for a trashy treatment. Letourneau was arrested in March, 1997, for raping a 13-year-old student, and her insistence that it was true devotion sparked national debates. Critics blasted her twisted ideas on love and trust, while supporters (yes, some existed) claimed her so-called crime was victimless — that her young Romeo knew exactly what he was doing.
That tussle is the heart of “Girl,” which is told in flashbacks as Letourneau details her messed up life to Dr. Jane Newhall (Mercedes Ruehl), a sympathetic psychiatrist who tries her best to understand her patient without being condescending. While Letourneau recalls how she got into this predicament, she trots out a ton of baggage, including a philandering father (Chris Bondy) who served as a U.S. congressman, an emotionless mother (Janet Laine Green) and an incestuous relationship with one of her brothers. She also focuses on her marriage to Steve (Greg Spottiswood), an uncommunicative man who admits to having an affair and has drifted away from Mary Kay and their six children.
All of these issues blanket a hard-core loneliness, and Vili Fualaau (newcomer Omar Anguiano) is just the boy to cure it. A sensitive teen who acts older than his peers, he bets his friends that he’ll eventually win over his attractive educator and begins a chivalric courtship. Spending a great deal of time with Letourneau during her tough times gives her the wrong impression and also leads to some illicit physical contact. But instead of putting a stop to it immediately, Letourneau, thrilled that someone is showing some interest, continues the affair and ultimately has a baby. See kids, school can be fun. Just apply yourself.
And it doesn’t end there. After a judge sentences her only to outpatient treatment with the provision that she avoids Vili — his mother (Rena Owen) was one of Letourneau’s biggest advocates — the happy couple is caught again (Feb. ’98), tucked away in a parked car with over $6,000 and passports. Her conditional discharge is revoked, and she’s sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison, where she gives birth to their second child. She will be released in 2005.
It’s difficult to know how much of “Girl” is dramatically enhanced, but one thing is definite: these lovebirds are severely troubled. And although director Lloyd Kramer and scribe Julie Hebert attempt to paint a somber portrait of both participants, they can’t hide the fact that this is just plain ol’ perversion dressed up for ratings. And it takes itself way too seriously; jump-cut editing and slow-motion scenes are used to little effect. Note to TV execs: When you’ve got a story with this kind of fun depravity, don’t gussy it up with pretension. Just pander.
There is a supposed bonus: After the broadcast, USA will present “Letourneau: Live,” a one-hour special that introduces viewers to all of the real-life players.