Friday, July 16, 2010

A Secret Between Friends: A Moment of Truth Movie

This was my favorite lifetime movie as a kid. It was part of the trifecta of my fictional introduction to anorexia--along with Jessi and the Awful Secret and that Full House episode where DJ gets anorexia for five minutes.

We open on a fun summer party. Kids play volleyball and drink. A teen girl, Lexie, is worried about her friend Jennifer, who's off closing her eyes and swaying to the music in the way that, if you do it on a network sitcom or a Lifetime movie, means that within minutes you're either going to die of alcohol poisoning or get dated raped. Lexie keeps after Jennifer who finally snaps and screams at her, telling her to leave her alone and stop worrying. Jennifer runs off and gets by a car. Well. Sure showed her.

One year earlier, we open on Lexie, her little sister, and her mother, played by the lovely Lynda Carter, who, in the wake of a vicious divorce, have moved to a new town.

Lexie nervously examines herself in the mirror. "Do you think I'm fat?" she asks her mom.

"Oh, honey," Lynda Carter responds. "You just put on a few pounds this summer. They'll come off when you start volleyball." Oh, Wonder Woman. I know you mean well, but you might as well tell Lexie that she's not fat, she's just big boned--and she's got two huge bones in her hips.

Lexie makes the volleyball team and meets Jennifer, a bulimic Christina Ricci doppleganger whose hobbies are binging, purging, and affectedly speaking French. The minute Jennifer sees Lexie, you can see the wheels turning in her head and hear the word "Project!" accompanied by cute Cher Horowitz-esque squeals. Can anyone say Malnutrition Makeover?

Lexie's already under pressure to lose weight from the volleyball coach, a woman whose sole purpose seems to be to function as an anorexia trigger. Her advice when Lexie misses a few hits is to drop a few pounds, so Lexie will be able to jump higher. Seriously, coach? At this point, I'd accept, "Hustle, girls!" as Lombardi-esque words of wisdom. I'm under the impression that the good people at Lifetime network actually do want us to believe that Lexie is fat, however. Mostly because the filmmakers went to the trouble of outfitting Lexie in pants and shirts so baggy that they would blouse on Kevin Smith.

Later, Lexie hangs out at Jennifer's house. The two giggle, talk about actresses, and then gorge themselves on junk food. I'm all set to take a zit sticker and break out the Mall Madness when Jennifer flits off to the bathroom, vomits loudly, and then breezes out to knock off a one liner about how the Romans had the right idea re: purging. I think even Blair Waldorf would be a little overwhelmed by Jennifer's nonchalant attitude towards purging. Sweet, Midwestern Lexie certainly is. But soon she's initiated into a world of counting calories, compulsively exercising, and talking about how great low-fat food is, and I start to feel as though I've stepped into a Yoplait ad.

In one scene, Jennifer hands Lexie a lunchbox with crackers and tells her, "Cut them into quarters to make them last longer, young Grasshopper." We can tell Lexie's starting to become svelter. Mostly because the filmmakers put Lexie in a dress that fits and because a young Ryan Reynolds starts stammering and getting all, "I've noticed you around, I find you very attractive. Would you, um...go to the winter formal with me?"

Just in case we're not sure why anorexia happens, the filmmakers interject tons of "Did Dad call? No? Okay," moments and soon, a trip to visit divorced dad in Chicago ensues. Dad introduces Lexie and her sister to his new girlfriend. Lexie picks at her salad while her dad mentions that he won't be around for Christmas because he and the new fling will be in Colorado skiing and working on a replacement family, but hey, maybe the girls can come out for a quick visit. Dejected, Lexie sends back the salad. Did you get that, audience? Divorce...baaaaad. Looking the other way while he cheats for the sake of the kids...goooooood.

Lexie continues to obsess over her weight and the makeup department deprives Lexie of lip gloss and anything but the most colorless base foundation. Mom does her best to combat her daughter's burgeoning eating disorder by hugging Lexie and spouting off Our Bodies Ourselves worthy quips like, "Every woman has hips, Lexie." I have to admit, she does it so soothingly, I almost believe her before remembering that she's Lynda Carter and that next to her, even the most attractive girl looks like an Oompa Loompa. Lexie isn't buying it, though, and continues to subsist on rice and air while her mom looks on, vaguely disapprovingly.

At a volleyball related fundraiser, a photographer shows up to cover the story and to perv on Jennifer. Jennifer and Lexie, their undernourished little heads filled with ideas of becoming supermodels, show up to the photographer's studio. Lexie worries that he's a creep, but Jennifer astutely points out, "Pervs don't give you their cards," and somewhere Terry Richardson realizes just how to part insecure hipster girls from their drawers.

Humbert Leibowitz smashes Lexie's dreams of starring in rec room type Calvin Klein ads, however. According to him, Lexie's not the modeling type. Turns out he'd prefer a poor man's Christina Ricci. I have to ask: is this guy culturally illiterate? Has he never heard of Kate Moss? Lexie runs home crying and vows to work harder than ever at being thin.

But the next day is the big volleyball game. Even Mom's going to be there. Lexie shows up looking like an Auschwitz victim and wanders around dazedly. I call shenanigans on the fact that A) no one's admitted her to a hospital and B) no one's given her a modeling contract. The girl basically is the embodiment of heroin chic right there, no matter what that photographer said. Lexie gets admitted to a hospital when she finally passes out during the big game. A doctor diagnoses her with anorexia. Jennifer shows up, worried, asking when Lexie's going to get out. According to Lexie: ten pounds later (and three lip gloss shades later, I mentally add).

Lexie manages to put on the weight. After leaving, she tells her mom she's worried about Jennifer. When Mom asks why, Lexie tells her that Jennifer sort of taught her how to become anorexic. "What?! Lasso of truth time, Lexie." Lexie spills the beans, that Jennifer's bulimic and that Jennifer initiated Lexie into the world of anorexia. Lexie's mom is a lot more unfrazzled than my mom would be in that situation because her reaction is to furrow her brow and gently inquire, "Is it going to be hard for you to be around her?" whereas mine would probably have locked me in the Chokey to keep me away from my eating disordered peers and opened a can of whoopass on Jennifer.

Lexie's mother tells Jennifer's mom about the bulimia. Jennifer's mother doesn't believe it and replies, "Jennifer isn't underweight. All you have to do is look at her." I'm impressed. You're too fat to be anorexic. That's the kind of back handed mother to daughter compliment worthy of Joan Rivers or Kathy Griffin if she and Levi ever spawn. Lynda Carter nods and once again speaks in soothing PSA worthy soundbites, informing Jen's mom and people who somehow managed to miss every Very Special Sitcom episode centering around eating disorders, that "Bulimics can still maintain their normal body weights and still be in danger."

When Jennifer finds out that Lexie spilled the beans, she's furious and won't speak to her. We cut back to the party at the beginning of the movie. Ah, we've come full circle. I get it. Jennifer basically screams at Lexie to leave her alone, she doesn't need her, and it's all very You don't own me, don't say I can't purge up my Chunky Monkey, you don't own me, don't say I can't mainline laxatives, until Jennifer gets hit by a car. It's revealed that it wasn't the impact of the car that killed her but a heart problem brought on by her bulimia, but Lexie still feels guilty.

Lexie regresses to her old unhealthy behavior and the makeup crew breaks out the zombie beige shades of lip gloss again. Yup, there's nothing like seeing your friend die of an eating disorder to want to embrace it. Lexie imagines seeing Jennifer when running on the beach and feels guilt, and I can't help but wonder if Laurie Halse Anderson had this movie on a continuous loop in the background when she penned Wintergirls.

Lexie's mother tries to reach out to her, telling her not to give in to the urge to purge with the zeal and frustration of a first time puppy owner attempting crate training. She asks for time off from her boss to help her daughter. Boss man isn't up on his Mary Pipher and he sneers at Lynda Carter, telling her Lexie's probably just lazy. Lynda draws herself up and gives another profound soundbite, worthy of inclusion in a middle school term paper on eating disorders: "Do you know how many girls die of anorexia in this country every year? I'm talking mostly high achieving straight-A students."

But none of Lynda's mothering works and soon Lexie's deadbeat dad shows up to try to get Lexie readmitted to the hospital--and to start another argument, thus reminding the audience that once again, divorce is bad, mmkay? Lynda Carter pleads with her ex who leaves to get a court order. When he leaves, she and Lexie argue. With only five minutes left of the film, I wonder if we're finally going to see an anorexic film that finally has the undernourished, amenorrheic ovaries to pull off a death scene. But no, Lexie collapses on the floor sobbing and telling her mother she doesn't want to die. Later that night, they're giggling over brownie mix. Is there nothing Lynda Carter can't do?

Lexie gains weight and access to pinker hued lipsticks. She smiles at her eating disorder therapist, looking like a brunette Angela Davis, saying how she can't wait to play volleyball again. She and her younger sister make brownies and little sis asks if Lexie is okay again. You can tell the filmmakers spent way too much time on Lexie being ill for it to be remotely plausible that she's okay again this fast. So it's time to call in some genius scriptwriting and illustrate that recovery is still a struggle for Lexie. "It's still a struggle," Lexie tells her sister as she licks brownie mix off her spoon.

The film closes on Lexie playing volleyball as she imagines Jennifer smiling down on her. Lynda Carter pumps her fists happily, the credits roll, and years later, pro-ana sites recount Lexie's anorexic behavior with reverence and chant We love you Lexie, oh yes we do.