If the packaging of the newly released DVD of made for TV movie Acceptance tells us anything, it is that in the world of retail the Lifetime brand is the kiss of death. It is all fine and good if people can consume it in the privacy of their own home, but, as is the case here, if they need to sell one of their movies over the counter best not to advertise where it came from. Instead they have turned to their stars, Joan Cusack and the perpetually bland Mae Whitman, to sell this parody of Ivy obsessed upper-crusters and the all too real damage that that their mental disorder inflicts on their kids. Acceptance follows Taylor (Whitman) a high school senior working hard to stay sane in this land of crazies, where all anybody ever talks about is college admissions. Cusack plays her mom Nina; a boozy, controlling type who is hopelessly out of touch and totally devoted to landing Taylor in a top five school.
Sanaa Hamri, a real and accomplished director, helms here and helps make this sloppy screenplay watchable. Taylor has the last name Rockefeller (which is used for two painful jokes) and is addicted to stealing the neighbors mail. Nina is almost certainly supposed to be an over-the-top portrayal of a parent who cares so much that she has lost touch with reality, but anybody who has grown up in one of these places will recognize her as being stunningly true to life. Her husband pops in and out, but he is, for the most part, a deadbeat; and we all know that deadbeats are usually easy targets, but here he is almost sympathetic. Taylor bristles at the idea of Harvard or Yale and instead decides to go slumming and has tunnel vision for the fictional Yates College.
Of course by “slumming” we mean, according to this movie, only the 50th best college in America (out of how many?) which highlights a main problem here. The filmmakers are pretending to stand up for the little guy (those of us who could never sniff the hem of the Ivy League gown), but are at the same time filling our heads with lines that are downright contemptuous towards working class jobs (“burger flipping,” etc.). The trip to check out Yates is by far the funniest sequence in the movie, as it allows all of the uptight parents to become unhinged and spew bile all over the campus in horror . Then comes a dark turn, one that Lifetimes has used more than once before, but that works here because it is such a strong indictment against these ugly parents.
Everything after that turn is working towards resolutions. Will Taylor get better? Will she get into a college? They are easy problems with easy, obvious solutions, but Lifetime is a model of storytelling well versed in making the rote seem as tasty as possible. It’s hardly groundbreaking, but it goes down smooth enough. So much so that we it’s easy to see why housewives become addicted to these things. Their critique of the rich monsters who base their lives around making sure their kids get into a status enhancing college is spot on, and relevant.
DVD Special Features:
Starring: Mae Whitman, Joan Cusack, Kiersten Warren, Mark Moses
Director: Sanaa Hamri
Writers: Suzette Coutue (based on the novel by Susan Coll)
Runtime: 88 minutes