Lifetime Review: "Sleeping With My Student"
A one-night stand opens the floodgates for secrets and deception in this formulaic but entertaining Lifetime thriller.
A girls' weekend is just the thing Kathy Sullivan (Gina Holden) needs in the wake of her separation from her husband Ben (David Lipper). While Kathy initially dismisses her friends' insistence that she should consider re-entering the dating pool, she can't help but find herself intrigued by handsome hotel employee Ian (Mitchell Hoog), who is quick to begin flirting with the vulnerable Kathy until the pair having a tryst. The next morning, Ian is gone, and Kathy returns home, ready to start her job as principal of her daughter Bree's (Jessica Belkin) school and forget her brief indiscretion.
That is, until Kathy makes a shocking discovery: not only is Ian a new student at the school, but he has begun befriending the shy former stutterer Bree. As Kathy begins to realize just how dangerous her paramour is, Ian shows that his tryst with Kathy was part of a far more sinister plan he has in mind—and he will go to whatever lengths he needs to ensure he gets what he wants.
For seasoned Lifetime viewers, Sleeping With My Student is hardly going to bring many surprises. The opening scene is likely all it will take for most viewers to realize why Ian has targeted Kathy and Bree, and some especially astute viewers might even be able to anticipate the film's secondary (and admittedly less common) twist. While this level of predictability might be too much for some viewers, Sleeping With My Student has solid pacing and a strong cast that allows for an entertaining viewing experience that successfully offsets the admittedly familiar story.
The film wastes little time in setting the stage for the drama that is to come, with the opening act having Kathy meet and be seduced by Ian before returning home and finding herself and her daughter caught in her one-time lover's web. The film then puts a focus on Ian befriending Bree while Kathy remains unaware that her one-night stand has wormed his way into her life, with this and the bits and pieces of Ian's full motivation and backstory allowing for tension to build as to what exactly Ian has planned for Kathy and Bree. This tension is brought to a greater level once Kathy becomes aware of Ian's re-entering her life, leading to a climax that comes as a well-earned conclusion to the accumulated tension between Kathy and Ian.
The cast, however, is where the film's strength really lies. Previously seen on Lifetime as a charming and sincere boyfriend in The Wrong Stepmother, Mitchell Hoog brings equal parts malice and depth to Ian Johnson. With his introduction quickly letting the audience know his intentions with Kathy are devious, Hoog has plenty of time to throw himself into his twisted character and does exactly that. Whether he's manipulating Bree into friendship or taunting Kathy once she learns about his enrollment at her new school, Hoog brings a palpable sense of dread to Ian. Bree's role in his plans also allows for Hoog to bring some range to Ian, particularly once the whole truth is revealed. WARNING: SPOILER ALERT There's also the fact that an earlier revelation brings a tragic element to Ian's revenge scheme: Throughout the entire film, Ian is attempting to kill Kathy to avenge his father. All the while, Ian remains oblivious to the fact that his mother (the woman he was arguably orchestrating his scheme for) is who was truly to blame for his father's death—with the film ending with June remaining unharmed and with her secret still under wraps while Ian dies. Spoilers Over
Gina Holden, being no stranger to Lifetime, brings a likability to Kathy even as her actions become morally questionable. While her efforts to keep her mistake under wraps may strike some the wrong way, Holden (aided by Kathy's full backstory) manages to bring a vulnerability to Kathy that allows you to understand why she makes the mistakes she does and believe in her regret for them. Holden also brings a determination to Kathy's efforts to protect Bree from Ian, making clear that for all of her faults, her love for her daughter overrides them. Jessica Belkin, meanwhile, plays Bree with aching sincerity, making it all the more disheartening to see the meek and reserved girl being manipulated by Ian. Belkin also shares strong chemistry with Hoog as their doomed friendship develops, adding another layer of dread to the proceedings.
Novi Brown brings a liveliness to Kathy's best friend and eventual ally-against-Ian Megan, and David Lipper makes the most of his restrictively small screen time to bring a quick likability to Ben. Lipper and Holden also play well off each other in the development Kathy and Ben's relationship is able to accumulate, allowing the viewer to believe that beneath the mistakes that tore them apart, they still love each other. Olivia Bak also brings emotional depth to what could have easily been a stale "Mean Girl" archetype, though the inclusion of Gina and Leslie (whose actress I can't pinpoint thanks to IMDB's lackluster cast list) in the story strikes me as somewhat superfluous and confusing given how they figure into Ian's scheme. SPOILER ALERT If Ian was so fixated on having his revenge and running away with Bree and his mother, why would he be partying with Gina and Leslie beforehand and having a one-night stand with Gina? It all seems strange for a villain so hellbent on his plan succeeding would open themselves up to needless complications like that. Spoilers Over
Sleeping With My Student is the sort of Lifetime movie almost any veteran visitor to the channel will predict ahead of time—an aspect that is sure to turn people away along with Kathy's controversial decisions. But for viewers who aren't turned off by the formula-driven plot, Sleeping With My Student will remain a solid two hours of entertainment, thanks to the strong cast and plotting as well as its excellent love-to-hate villain. Formulaic does not instantly equate with awful, and Sleeping With My Student certainly proves that.
Score: 7 out of 10 high school art galleries.