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Lifetime Review: 'Dying For a Good Grade'

Ironically, this college-centric Lifetime movie is full of characters who couldn't outsmart a bowl of cereal.

By Trevor WellsPublished 3 years ago 7 min read

Anni Kerr (Karis Cameron) is a high school senior with big plans for her future. She has her sights locked on Pine State--the college she and her best friend Katie Turner (Rachelle Gillis) have been talking about going to since they were kids. The only thing standing in their way is Anni's SAT math score. With retakes coming up, Anni worries that if her grade doesn't improve, she won't be able to join Katie at Pine State. Even with the encouragement of her mother Jennifer (Stefanie von Pfetten), Anni is still worried as she prepares to hit the books.

But then Katie makes a shocking confession: she paid for someone to take the SAT for Anni, as her mother Lisa (Ona Grauer) had done the same thing to get her into Pine State. While shocked and furious at Katie for getting her into college illegally, Anni quickly gets further ensnared in her friend's scheme and feels she has no choice but to go along with it. But soon, it becomes clear that the company behind the cheating scam is more ruthless than either girl realized--and they're willing to kill anyone who threatens to spill the beans on their operation. Getting into her dream school is about to turn Anni's life into a nightmare.

Once it was revealed that Katie's mother is an actress, it became clear where the inspiration for Dying For a Good Grade came from. If you were living under a rock last year, Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman were exposed for having bribed their daughters' ways into college. As the movie goes on, it seems clearer and clearer that Lisa and her daughter Katie were written to be expies of Lori Loughlin and her daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli. After all, they have become the more prominent figures of the scandal. Watching Dying For a Good Grade is a bit more fun if you have some cursory knowledge about the case. If you do, you're sure to hear a few cheeky allusions here and there. Unfortunately, that proves to be one of the few amusing things about this Lifetime thriller. Between the semi-sluggish pacing and frustratingly dumb characters, Dying For a Good Grade might just have you dying to see the end credits appear.

Those two flaws actually work hand in hand. It's largely thanks to the idiotic decisions of the main characters that the plot goes down the dry route it takes. Despite being completely infuriated by Katie breaking the law to get her into Pine State, Anni inexplicably decides to cooperate under an "I'm already in too deep" logic. Even accounting for Anni's age and her loyalty to Katie, it makes no sense how Anni thought she'd be arrested for a criminal conspiracy she was dragged into without her consent. It's even more puzzling when you consider Anni has a supportive mother and lawyer father that could help her out. But instead of turning to them, Anni spends most of the movie hiding her problems from them and going all Bratty Teenager on Jennifer for being rightfully concerned about her. Seeing Anni continue to keep her parents in the dark once it becomes clear she and Katie are involved in something that could cost them their lives makes it even harder to root for her.

(Last year, Karis Cameron played a similar character in fellow Reel One Entertainment film Cheer Squad Secrets. Amelie Regan's overachiever status and other circumstances made her moments of lashing out understandable and Cameron played them in a way that kept Amelie sympathetic. Here, Anni's college stress isn't as developed--it seems her only concern for the future is that she and her best friend might have to attend different colleges--and Cameron isn't given as much room to keep her character's likability intact.)

One point in Anni's favor: she's Harvard material in comparison to her friend Katie. While Anni at least realizes that what she's gotten caught up in is dangerous, Katie continuously tries to play it all off as "no big deal." Even after being given confirmation that she and Anni are in serious trouble, Katie keeps trying to say everything is under control and dismisses all of Anni's well-warranted fears. For all the talk of how Katie is Anni's best friend and did what she did to help her, Katie rarely acts like she actually cares about Anni all that much. The way Rachelle Gillis plays up Katie's more obnoxious qualities only adds to how annoying she is. SPOILER ALERT I'd say it says something about Katie's character that it's only after she herself gets hurt that she realizes how stupid her actions were and apologizes. As well-acted as the apology is, it comes too little too late to redeem Katie and it rubs the wrong way that she's still free to go to college after everything she did. Spoilers Over

But at least Anni and Katie have the excuse of being teenagers for their crappy choices. The adults in their lives don't have that. While established as a caring mother, Jennifer spends most of the movie unaware of what Anni is going through. While she recognizes when Anni's demeanor takes a turn for the worse, she's uncharacteristically blasé about it until the tail end of the final act. Her ex-husband Grant is similarly nonchalant about his daughter's visible state of distress during their visits together.

Lastly is Katie's mother Lisa, who enters the movie having already made the bonehead decision of bribing her spoiled brat of a daughter into college. She does get some fierce moments that Ona Grauer does solid work with, the most cathartic being when she chews out Katie for being a selfish idiot. But it all gets undone when she and Jennifer share in doing the single most asinine thing in the movie. SPOILER ALERT After they both finally realize how serious their daughters' predicament is, what do Jennifer and Lisa decide the best course of action is? To storm right into the villains' headquarters and demand they be left alone. Given how they know by this point what this organization is capable of, it's baffling how either mother could've thought this would accomplish anything other than putting their children in even more danger. One last moronic adult to add to the tally is guidance counselor Regina Kent (played by Marnie Mahannah), who apparently figured out early on what Katie did and didn't report her to the authorities either. This girl's plan sure was dependent on everyone in her life being as dense as pencil shavings. Spoilers Over

The actors behind this array of annoying characters have their own issues. Stiff acting abounds throughout the opening minutes of Dying For a Good Grade, especially regarding the actors playing the younger male characters (Katie's friends Dev and Si, professional tutor Reilly, and Anni's friend/crush Nathan). Even the usually competent Karis Cameron falls under the bad acting bug. At least she loosens up when Anni realizes what she's gotten roped into, accurately depicting the fear she tries to hide from her parents. Stefanie von Pfetten doesn't fare as well, though she's not given much to do for most of the movie other than be the standard strict but caring Lifetime mom. But like Cameron, Pfetten improves in the last act when Jennifer is finally allowed to get involved in the action. The same applies to Jason Cermak, with the way Grant gets involved making for a neat little twist. Too bad the underwhelming climax doesn't do anything to capitalize on it after the strong performance Cermak gives in his final scenes.

The villains' performances are much more consistently effective than those of the "heroes." SPOILER ALERT Joel Semande is the best as "surprise" villain Reilly. While his acting in the scenes where he attempts to mask Reilly's true nature to the audience fall flat, he's a sinister marvel when the truth finally comes out. From his icy stare to the casually cruel tone in his voice as he threatens Katie and later Anni, Reilly deserved a much better finale than a generic "you don't have the guts to shoot me" standoff with Jennifer. Spoilers Over Josh Blacker's Marshall Callidus matches wits with his accomplice in the menacing department, giving a coldly suave allure to the unscrupulous mastermind. He also gets in a particularly entertaining jab at Lori Loughlin/Felicity Huffman during a scene where he gives Lisa a well-deserved dressing down. Regardless of her intentions, she set the film's events into motion by trying to use her money and privilege to give her daughter an education she didn't earn.

Marshall and his partner-in-crime get an unintended appeal boost from the protagonists. With how unlikable and aggravating they are, you might end up rooting for the murderous scammers. As good as some of the actors are, they can only do so much to make Dying for a Good Grade worth watching. The story only gets thrilling on occasion and the plot is only possible thanks to all the characters being impossibly stupid. The villains deserved a better movie to be evil in and Karis Cameron certainly didn't deserve to have her abilities wasted on such a dunce of a character. Despite the cast's best efforts, Dying for a Good Grade won't be graduating with the rest of its class.

Score: 3 out of 10 tie-dye sweaters.

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About the Creator

Trevor Wells

Aspiring writer and film lover: Lifetime, Hallmark, indie, and anything else that strikes my interest. He/him.

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    Trevor WellsWritten by Trevor Wells

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