Lifetime Review: 'Psycho BFF'
A toxic friendship drags a troubled teen down a dark path in this wonderfully over-the-top Lifetime teen drama.
Following her parents' tough divorce and a move from New York to suburbia, 17-year-old aspiring writer Deandra Laird (Juliana Destefano) finds herself struggling to adapt to her new surroundings and school—especially when she makes quick enemies with snobbish classmate, Adele (Paige McGarvin). So, when Deandra finds herself being befriended by school rebel Olivia (Alexandra Doke), the friendship is a breath of fresh air as Olivia encourages Deandra not to worry about Adele, and to get out of her comfort zone.
But soon, Deandra begins to realize that her new friend's attitude comes at a steep price, with things escalating to the point where Deandra's mother, Renee (Kate Watson), forbids her from seeing Olivia again. But what Deandra and her mother don't know is that Olivia has no intention of letting Deandra go—and has already proven that she would sooner kill a best friend than let them go. What lengths will Olivia go to ensure she and Deandra stay best friends forever?
Psycho BFF's biggest strength is established in the film's opening, as it acts as the perfect establishing scene to set the tone for the film that follows it. With the scene immediately throwing the audience into Olivia's twisted character and just how dangerous she can get, Psycho BFF shows that it plans to be just as histrionic as its title indicates. In a similar vein to The Wrong Friend, Psycho BFF plays its premise for all the Lifetime-y drama it's worth, while also keeping the film grounded in some sense of reality, which allows for the deeper elements of the storyline to emerge without being drowned out.
Aside from the opening, however, a viewer might be led to believe that Psycho BFF was a particularly cynical high school buddy comedy, rather than a Lifetime film. The first half of the film is dedicated to developing Deandra and her friendship with Olivia, and how the two combat Adele's bullying. On paper, this sounds like an audience-alienating approach to the story, but Psycho BFF makes this work in two ways:
#1: Developing Deandra and Olivia's friendship into an interesting dynamic, and one that is well-acted by Juliana Destefano and Alexandra Doke.
Destefano (previously seen in Smuggling in Suburbia as the haughty Sharnae) is relatable and sympathetic as Deandra, bringing deep emotion to the moments when we see just how lost and hurting Deandra is, as a result of her parents' divorce and Olivia's toxic influence. For anyone who has found themselves in a toxic relationship of any kind, Deandra's struggles will surely strike a chord. Even as the third act has Deandra making some increasingly frustrating decisions, Destefano's performance keeps Deandra from losing too many sympathy points.
Meanwhile, Doke brings a vigor to the unpredictable and manipulative Olivia. Whether her actions are of the adolescent variety or of a darker and more dangerous sort, Doke brings the sense that every move Olivia makes in regards to her friendship with Deandra is a calculated step, in keeping her new "friend" dependent on her. Like Deandra, Olivia is a character that is sure to resonate with viewers familiar with the struggle of having a friend who is as supportive and charismatic as they are controlling and self-centered.
And #2: Olivia's more subdued forms of manipulation and blind chaos allow for her psychotic spiral in the film's final act to be all the more thrilling.
After two acts of melodramatic Mean Girls-esque drama revolving around Deandra and Olivia and their shared rivalry with Adele, the final act having the girls' unhealthy relationship explode in an intense fireball makes for a strong final act that raises the suspense to 11, and keeps it there (aided by Doke fully throwing herself into Olivia's meltdown). It also acts as an empowering conclusion to Deandra's character arc, as the audience will cheer at seeing Deandra finally become firm in her stance against Olivia's influence over her.
Rounding out the film's primary cast is Paige McGarvin as queen bee Adele, and Kate Watson as Deandra's struggling single mother Renee. As Adele, McGarvin leans into the film's over-the-top nature by playing her up as the ultimate over-the-top Alpha Bitch. McGarvin's histrionic portrayal also gives Adele's actions a disturbing factor once you think about it: Her overt awfulness can be seen as leaving Deandra blind to Olivia's more subtle (and far more insidious) means of emotional abuse. At the same time, however, it allows Adele a sympathetic edge over Olivia; the former may be a bully, but her cruelty at least has an honesty to it as opposed to Olivia's rambling justifications for her actions.
Kate Watson was also able to give a powerful performance as Renee, once the film allowed her to break away from her initially generic "Teen Heroine's Mom" mold. Unlike her impressionable and gaslit daughter, Renee is quick to become suspicious of Olivia, and once it becomes clear that Olivia is a bad influence, Renee firmly puts her foot down while also trying, to no avail, to help Deandra deal with her conflicted feelings about Olivia, as well as the divorce. Watson truly shines, however, during the film's already intense climax as she searches for Deandra, going above and beyond as we see Renee's poignant breakdown as she desperately tries to rescue Deandra from Olivia's clutches.
For those with a disdain for over-the-top high school melodrama, Psycho BFF may not be up your alley, and Deandra's actions during the otherwise solid third act are sure to enrage a few viewers. But if you're a fan of that type of drama (or at the very least, can stomach it for more than five minutes), and are also a fan of Lifetime at its Lifetime-iest, Psycho BFF is definitely a thriller that will take you for a ride that more than makes up for Deandra's third act naivety. Maybe even consider watching with your own (hopefully non-psychotic) BFF...
Score: 9 out of 10 wrenches.