Usually I’d start a Lifetime movie recap like this by sarcastically remarking that the movie was shockingly about the same thing its title suggests. It’s just a reliable little tradition I like to cling to. But this week Lifetime showed a movie called The Good Mother that is actually not about a good mother at all. But it would still be sarcasm if I said that was a surprise. Because honestly, my friends, what kind of Lifetime movie would it be if it was about a good mother? Boooring. Plus, there’s the precedent set by The Good Son.
Let’s get started, shall we? I expected to begin at the end, but this week Lifetime really did throw me for a loop by starting at the beginning. Our heroine Jillian (Camille Cregan) is apprehended by the cops on her motorcycle for stealing food. The helicopter seems a bit much for a Jean Valjeanian crime, wouldn’t you agree? I know Jillian is our heroine because she A.) is a teenager, B.) sports a badass mullet with an indecisive part, and C.) has the best name in the world. Jillian’s mom is a drug addict who can’t support her, but her best friend’s mom Cheryl (Helen Slater) is willing to take her into her fancy house. So it’s like The O.C. Except not.
It turns out Cheryl’s daughter Melanie (Meaghan Martin) is sick with a disease called lymphangiectasia, which isn’t named until later on when Jillian has a spare minute to Google QuikSearch it and miraculously know to put that extra “i” in there. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Melanie’s in a lot of pain, and her father Scott (Patrick Fabian) argues with former nurse Cheryl over how to deal with it. Meanwhile, Jillian’s all, “Woohoo, you don’t have to go to school and you can play on your iPad all day!” and Melanie’s all, “Actually I’m very sick and would like to be better.” Awkward.
Cheryl makes Melanie a milkshake (insert There Will Be Blood reference circa 2007) that I immediately assumed was poisoned with something. When in doubt, assume every drink in every Lifetime movie is poisoned. After a little creepy singing from Cheryl, we see Melanie being rushed to the hospital. Right before she dies, she jerks herself conscious to warn Jillian, “Hillary. Don’t let her die. Save her.” Um, would have been nice of you to elaborate about this issue earlier, Mel. Unfortunately, such is the curse of a dying Lifetime movie character that they’re unable to give important information until the last second. So sad. By the way, Hillary is Melanie’s little sister, whom Cheryl says has a good chance of developing the same disease.
Jillian sits apart at the funeral holding a single Gerbera daisy. (This whole image is the international sign for emo.) Cheryl presents her as the recipient of an award in Melanie’s name, and people gossip about her because apparently not even funerals are sacred these days. Side note: one of the gossipers is Elizabeth the stripper from The Office! Whatever happened to secret secrets, girlfriend?
Hillary gets sick very soon afterward, and according to the gossipy nurses at the hospital where Cheryl used to work, this is very suspicious. Because surprise, surprise, Cheryl’s got some issues. Jillian’s suspicions grow when she finds suspicious syringes in Melanie’s bedroom. Syringes Cheryl suspiciously disposes of in the school dumpster the next day. Jillian takes them to be tested by her friend, who conveniently works in some sort of lab. So begins Jillian’s quest to solve the mystery and figure out what Cheryl’s deal is. Why do Lifetime teens have to do everything? They should all form some sort of justice league.
Meanwhile, Cheryl continues making her creepy milkshakes. This time we get an uncomfortably long sequence detailing every step of the process, from slowly peeling the banana to licking the chocolate syrup off her finger to scooping some poison into the blender. I thought I’d accidentally flipped to the Creepy Food Network. We get a powerful swell of music when she finishes pouring it into the glass. I now wish this would happen whenever I order a Frappuccino. Cheryl of course offers it to Hillary, who takes one tiny sip and doesn’t want anymore. Well, this complicates things.
Soon Hillary is back at the hospital and Cheryl demands to see her. I should take a second to mention that Helen Slater is an excellent screamer. Cheryl screams a lot in this movie, and it’s never that sort of halfway pleasant screaming you’re used to from actors. It’s like full temper tantrum, forehead veins popping, “don’t you dare touch that sandwich with my name on it in the fridge” screaming. I hope she had a lot of cough drops on hand. Anyway, Cheryl manages to change Hillary’s records on the fancy tablet in her room, and she commences singing. Oh no, not again. She then refuses to do more tests and brings Hillary home. The doctor’s all, “Whatever, just don’t scream at me again.”
At this point Cheryl is onto Jillian being onto her and calls the police on her after planting pills in her bag. Another Lifetime rule: don’t leave your bag unattended. Jillian’s mom gets her out of jail and takes her home so she can be “a good mother.” TITLE ALERT! Did everybody hear it? They have awkward dinnertime stares and kind of sort of make up. Jillian also has a scary dream where Cheryl shows up with full Bridget Jones convertible hair and it’s terrifying.
Meanwhile, social services comes to take Hillary away, and Cheryl gets a few more screams in. Jillian’s laboratory friend calls just in time to inform her that he found ricin in the syringes. Ricin is really having a moment, isn’t it? It turns out the substance mirrors the symptoms of lymphangiectasia. Cheryl’s behavior is called Munchausen syndrome by proxy, and it affects thousands of families each year, according to the dramatic onscreen text after the movie, which was almost as scary as those shingles commercials.
Jillian races to the hospital on her motorcycle to stop Cheryl from harming Hillary, but Cheryl’s ready in her nurse uniform and carrying her syringe down the hall. Even though this child is believed to be in danger, Cheryl and Jillian are able to engage in a fight (complete with screaming) over the syringe in Hillary’s hospital room, while the officials take as much time to walk down the hall as that guy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We learn that Cheryl had a horrible mother and didn’t want her children to feel invisible. (Aaand there’s the past trauma I was waiting to hear about.) The fight ends with Cheryl injecting herself with ricin.
The movie ends with Cheryl getting treatment and Scott and Hillary moving out. Jillian’s BFF with her mom again, and all is right with the world. Until the next Lifetime movie, of course.