You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: James Franco’s ‘Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?’

Emily Meade, Leila George, Tori Spelling, James Franco, Nick Eversman, Emma Rigby, Ivan Sergei.

James Franco makes “art” at the rate most people eat breakfast — he has over 20 projects (no exaggeration) in various stages of production this year — and so exactly where Lifetime’s remake of the 1996 telepic “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” rates among his priorities is hard to guess. Franco executive produced, has a minor supporting role, and is credited with the “story” for this subversively desperate (or maybe desperately subversive?) reimagining that takes a shopworn woman-in-peril story and turns it into a slightly less shopworn lesbian vampire romance.

Franco’s vision for “Mother” isn’t so much influenced by the kitschy appeal of the original movie (or the novel by Claire Rainwater Jacobs, which no doubt has zero overlap with what’s here beyond the title), as it is by “Twilight,” queer theory, college theater, and Smashing Pumpkins music videos. We know this because all of these things are directly referenced on camera (except Smashing Pumpkins, though band member James Iha provides an atmospheric score that quickly becomes monotonous from overuse).

Our heroine, Leah (Leila George), loves the first “Twilight” because it “made teen sex dangerous again” in an era of “Teen Mom” when “everyone can use condoms.” Although it sounds like something Ted Cruz would say, Leah isn’t afraid to embrace her sexuality. She’s happily involved in a very physical relationship with goth photographer Pearl (Emily Meade), and decides to take the big step of introducing Pearl to her mother (Tori Spelling, who played the young woman in peril the first time around).

Leah’s mom doesn’t exactly take it well, having always assumed her daughter would bring home a boyfriend, but her concerns morph into outright fear when she gets a call from one of Leah’s classmates (Nick Eversman) warning her that Pearl is bad news. And this is right around the time Pearl drops the bomb on Leah that she’s actually a “nightwalker” who feeds on blood to survive.

Although Franco has story credit, and his influence feels like it permeates every frame, the project is actually written by Amber Coney (an actress on Freeform’s new series “Dead of Summer” who also has a small role here as part of the pack of female vamps who shadow Pearl and feed off rapists and abusive men) and directed by Melanie Aitkenhead. It’s a female-driven production — the producer, cinematographer, editor, production designer and casting director are all women too — and female empowerment is unsurprisingly one of the themes brought forth in the film’s jumbled stew of talking points and sex scenes and slow motion.

But it’s hard not to feel that the movie is just an ironic spin on exactly the trope Leah accuses the “Twilight” sequels of perpetuating: They “cash in on teen sexuality while seeming morally responsible.”

Ivan Sergei (who co-starred with Spelling in the original) is on hand as a college professor to deliver convenient lectures on “vampires and sexuality” and the way the “monster is often used in literature to represent the other, the queer,” in order to ensure that every single viewer knows that the movie they’re watching understands exactly what it’s serving up. And then the movie serves up a softcore sex scene that’s just a few stray bits of flesh away from premium cable territory.

“Mother” is simultaneously high-minded and lowbrow, and you get the sense that’s exactly what Franco wanted. Whether or not the result is something anyone else wants to see is another question. Unlike last year’s Lifetime lark, “A Deadly Adoption” starring Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, “Mother” doesn’t play like a straight-faced satire. It simply plays straight-faced. That works at first, but the narrative is so slack — and the budget so painfully low — that the minimal intrigue becomes impossible to sustain. All aspirations to trash-art aside, it’s ultimately repetitive and dull — padded with even more overhead shots of L.A. roadways than “True Detective” season two.

“Leftovers” veteran Meade is solid as the soulfully seductive vamp (she splits the difference between Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen from “Twilight” and Jason Patric’s Michael Emerson from “The Lost Boys”), and George (the daughter of Vincent D’Onofrio and Greta Scacchi) asserts herself well enough in her film debut. Franco probably shot his handful of scenes in a single day, but does fine work. Spelling can’t help but stand out as the awkward fit — she and George look more like complete strangers than mother and daughter, and she brings a light comic touch to a role clearly intended to be played for straight melodrama.

It’s a bold choice to devote a solid minute of the running time to the famed “Macbeth” monologue including the line, “a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Bold, and like the rest of the movie, a little too self-aware.

TV Review: James Franco's 'Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?'

TV Movie: Lifetime, Sat. June 18, 8 p.m. 120 MIN.

Production: Filmed by Sony Pictures Television in association with Rabbit Bandini Productions.

Crew: Executive producers, James Franco, Vince Jolivette, Diane Sokolow, Rachel Verno; co-executive producer, Tori Spelling; line producer, Steven Brandman; producer, Iris Torres; director, Melanie Aitkenhead; writer Amber Coney, story by Franco, based upon the novel by Claire Rainwater Jacobs; camera, Christina Voros; production designer, Kristen Adams; editor, Sharidan Williams-Sotelo; music, James Iha; casting, Lisa Soltau.

Cast: Emily Meade, Leila George, Tori Spelling, James Franco, Nick Eversman, Emma Rigby, Ivan Sergei.

More TV

  • La jauría

    Lucia Puenzo Talks Fabula-Fremantle’s ‘The Pack’ - ‘La Jauria’

    CANNES —   Produced by Chile’s Fabula, headed by Pablo and Juan de Dios Larraín, and Fremantle, and showrun by Lucía Puenzo (“The German Doctor”), “La Jauria” (The Pack) cuts excruciatingly to the chase. In its very first scene, a teen girl student sits down, back to the wall, before her male drama teacher who [...]

  • Stan Lee's Kindergarten Superhero

    Alibaba's Youku Boards 'Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten' With Arnold Schwarzenegger

    Youku, the video streaming platform of Alibaba Group, has signed a deal with Genius Brands International to co-produce “Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,” an animated series starring and executive produced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The pact marks significant step in Alibaba/Youku building its footprint in the U.S. Aimed at preschoolers, the comedy adventure series “Stan Lee’s Superhero [...]

  • Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig'Jigsaw' film premiere,

    AGC Television Secures Spierig Brothers for ‘Ben Walker’ Series Adaptation

    Filmmaking brothers Michael and Peter Spierig have boarded the supernatural thriller series adaptation of the popular literary “Ben Walker” franchise, developed by Stuart Ford’s AGC Television. Rob Carlson at UTA negotiated the deal on behalf of the Spierig Brothers with AGC Television President Lourdes Diaz, AGC’s VP of Legal & Business Affairs Anant Tamirisa, and [...]

  • Trauma French TV Series

    French TV Series to Watch at Mipcom

    Streaming services are boosting French TV production. Pascal Breton, whose Paris-based company Federation Entertainment co-produced “Marseille” and most recently “Marianne,” said the biggest benefit of streaming services, and Netflix in particular, is the way in which it has created a world audience for French shows. “Netflix amplifies the appeal of French shows abroad, and we [...]

  • Wild Bunch TV Boards RubyRock’s Feminist

    Wild Bunch TV Boards RubyRock’s Feminist Horror Anthology Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Wild Bunch TV has joined “Her Horror,” the female-led anthology series from recently-minted drama shingle RubyRock Pictures and Clipper Media Capital. “Her Horror” is billed as a feminist anthology series that will examine the female experience through the prism of horror. Zoë Rocha, former COO of Stephen Fry’s Sprout Pictures and a business affairs exec [...]

  • Bear Grylls Teams With Banijay to

    Bear Grylls, Delbert Shoopman Team With Banijay to Launch The Natural Studios

    Bear Grylls, the face of survival and outdoor adventure television, and his longtime producing partner, Delbert Shoopman, have teamed with leading global production and distribution powerhouse Banijay Group to launch production company The Natural Studios, which will produce both non-scripted and scripted adventure content. The new company’s slate includes Emmy-nominated “Hostile Planet” (Nat Geo), “Eco-Challenge” [...]

  • Bazar

    Netflix, Amazon Boost French Series While Working With Producers on EU Regs

    When Netflix bowed in France in late 2004, industry insiders predicted the U.S. streaming service would struggle to get access to local producers, talent and ultimately content, because of pre-existing relationships with French TV networks and the pay TV group Canal Plus. Five years later, Netflix is about to launch a fully staffed office in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content