As programmers obsess over younger demos, this Lifetime movie is most notable for daring to broach the taboo topic of age discrimination in Hollywood — casting Kirstie Alley as a middle-aged screenwriter who enlists her twentysomething nephew as a front for her work. That premise, alas, is the movie’s most distinctive attribute, as the tone flops all over — from screwball comedy to romance to saccharine drama, building toward a too-tidy ending. Nevertheless, addressing the “over 40 and out” conundrum qualifies as a mild breakthrough, and Alley manages to deliver a few moments in the vein of her tormented “Fat Actress” persona.
Screenwriter Byrdie Langdon (Alley) is desperate to sell something, anything, and completely disheartened after meeting with a snippy young development exec, Stacey (Britt Irvin). Echoing lines that can be overheard at almost any coffee shop in the 310 area code, she laments having her career judged “by a prepubescent cheerleader” who admits to having “started kindergarten” in 1987.
Facing this new form of blacklist — though here, the offending color is gray, not red — Byrdie experiences an epiphany listening to her nephew Jason (“The Loop’s” Eric Christian Olsen) launch into his smooth car-salesman spiel: Draft him to pitch her writing, not only selling her project but achieving sweet revenge against the baby-faced execs that dismissed her.
Unfortunately, the script by George Beckerman isn’t much fun, rather embroiling itself in the morality of this deception, as well as the law of unintended consequences. For starters, ladies’ man Jason quickly becomes mutually enamored of Andrea (Stacy Grant), a development exec with half a brain, whom Byrdie genuinely likes. This causes a potential snafu when Jason submits a word-for-word copy of “Kramer vs. Kramer” (titled “Father and Son”) as his writing sample, confident that airhead Stacey won’t recognize it.
Byrdie, meanwhile, begins her own flirtation with a suave author (Peter Cockett), which, given the other business the script needs to transact, proves at best a distraction.
There are vague echoes of “Tootsie” and “The Front” in “Write & Wrong’s” Cyrano-like scenario — plus a dollop of reality in veteran writers feeling the need to draft younger relatives as wingmen just to get a meeting. Yet despite Alley’s characteristically game performance, the movie proves relatively flat, inspiring little investment in Jason or Andrea, whose script-crossed romance commands near-equal time.
Perhaps the most amusing aside to all this is contemplating how producers pitch a movie about dunderheaded TV execs, at one point asking the writer whether the screenplay-within-a-screenplay’s age-discrimination victim could be in her mid-20s — and perhaps in a wheelchair? So on that score, at least, kudos to Lifetime for gambling on a project that not only has questionable appeal among younger demos but actually goes out of its way to insult them.