Lifetime Review: 'The Price of Fitting In'
Synthetic drugs and other toxic influences threaten to destroy a young woman in an emotionally captivating Lifetime feature.
At her old school, Charlie Cunningham (Elizabeth Adams) went down a bad path and ended up a pariah among her classmates. But now that she's clean of drugs and getting counseling, Charlie's mother Amber (Lora Burke) decides to move her to a new school for a fresh start. And aside from residential mean girl Lexi (Alicia Rosario) taking an immediate dislike for her, it initially looks like Bridgemond will be just the place for Charlie to start over as she joins the robotics club and strikes up a friendship with the kind-hearted Matt (Kadrian Enyia).
But it's through Lexi and fellow robotics club member Brad (Michael Bianchi) that Charlie is introduced to something else: K2, a synthetic form of marijuana. Convinced by Brad that it's completely harmless, Charlie tries K2 for herself--and her new start quickly turns into a nightmare. In addition to unexpected problems cropping up at Bridgemond, Charlie becomes increasingly addicted to K2 and increasingly hostile towards her mother. Realizing drugs are once again the change in her daughter's behavior, Amber tries to keep Charlie on the straight and narrow. But with all her troubles driving her back to K2, will Charlie's second descent into drugs come at the cost of her life?
Originally titled Trouble in Suburbia, this movie's airing title isn't a very accurate one. While she initially uses K2 at the behest of her new classmates, "fitting in" ultimately isn't Charlie's reason for becoming hooked on synthetic cannabis. Instead, she relies on it as an escape from the heap of problems she has at Bridgemond--many of them linked to the very classmates who introduced her to K2. Inaccurate title aside, The Price of Fitting In is a great movie and a big step up from the less-than-impressive Imperfect High. While both films focus on a troubled girl transferring to a new school and getting introduced to drugs, this one has better characters and a more original storyline that keeps you locked in on the action as Charlie's new beginning drives her back to her old vice.
Ranked against Perfect High's Amanda Walker and Imperfect High's Hanna Brooks, Charlie Cunningham is the most troubled of all three of the drug-addicted Lifetime teens I've written about as of late. Unlike the other girls, Charlie starts the movie having already fallen into addiction in the past. It leaves her even more vulnerable to peer pressure than her counterparts, and that's not even getting into all the other issues Charlie has under her belt. Her parents have gone through a bitter divorce. Her father is an unreliable dirtbag, but she still wants to believe in him. She loves her mother, but resents Amber for seemingly not trusting her anymore and for always "criticizing" her father. And her new school not only comes with tempting drugs, but also a nasty mean girl, a scummy hothead trying to get in her pants, and a perverted guidance counselor. For a debut performance, Elizabeth Adams does an amazing job depicting a young girl turning to drugs to escape the avalanche of stress she's facing. Whenever Charlie feels the scary side effects of K2 or falls apart after taking another hit, Adams is sure to have your heartstrings pulled taut.
Adams isn't the only new actor on The Price of Fitting In's cast roster. According to IMDB, she's joined by Kadrian Enyia and Alicia Rosario, who ironically play Charlie's new classmates Matt and Lexi. While he may be Charlie's designated love interest, Matt spends so much of the movie away from Charlie that Enyia and Adams don't have a whole lot of time to form romantic chemistry. Still, the pair work well together and Enyia does great on his own to make Matt an awkward but lovable guy. Matt is one of the few people at Bridgemond to treat Charlie well and look out for her, with that and his guilt about a tragedy that befell the school quickly making him an endearing character. Alicia Rosario's Lexi, meanwhile, starts out as your standard über-vicious high school mean girl. Her jabs at Charlie get progressively crueler as the movie goes on, with Rosario gives delicious bite to Lexi's insults. SPOILER ALERT But after Charlie and Lexi semi-bond over their shared experiences with creepy counselor Mr. Fell, Rosario allows a softer side to briefly emerge from Lexi. It makes it believable that Lexi would go on to start an anti-drug program by the epilogue, presumably motivated by remorse over her role in Charlie's near-fatal overdose. Spoilers Over
The last two prominent Bridgemond-based characters are sleazy student Brad and even sleazier guidance counselor Andrew Fell. In his first Lifetime movie (his first movie in general being a Hallmark flick), Michael Bianchi is acutely hostile and disgusting as Charlie's bad-influence-friend turned harasser Brad. Bridgemond's slimy guidance counselor Andrew Fell is even grosser, with Nick Smyth giving a grippingly disturbing portrayal of an all-too-real type of predator. And last but definitely not least, we have Lora Burke as Amber Cunningham. When compared to Perfect High's Katherine Walker and Imperfect High's Deborah Brooks, Amber Cunningham is at peak perceptiveness when it comes to her daughter's struggles. It doesn't take long for Amber to realize when Charlie has started using again and she acts accordingly to try and put a stop to it. She has her own issues, many of them tied to her deadbeat jerk of an ex-husband. The movie even opens with Amber bemoaning how a parent could miss the signs of their kid being on drugs after losing a teen patient to an overdose, ironically setting up how Amber will end up missing a few red flags with Charlie. Burke gives a balanced performance as a flawed but deeply loving mother and dives into Amber's emotional points just as fluidly as Adams.
The Price of Fitting In works much better on a plot level than Imperfect High. In addition to having a more original story, the film's structure keeps you invested in the characters and waiting to see what will happen next to poor Charlie. It all ends up coming to a rewarding conclusion, and apart from Charlie's decision to start using K2 again after learning about the dangerous side effects not having a believable inciting incident, there are no hitches to disrupt the flow. The aesthetic flow, however, does get interrupted a few times thanks to some instances of weird editing. They stop after a while, but they're still there long enough to get distracting.
Coming out after the lukewarm Imperfect High, The Price of Fitting In turns the heat up to a much more comfortable temperature. Rather than feeling like a preachy PSA stretched out to 90 minutes, writer Huelah Lander presents a well-crafted story that acts as the vessel for an important message. The pace moves at just the right speed to keep the viewer's attention and the mother-daughter relationship at the film's center feels more developed than the ones found in both "High" movies. And unlike Pom Poms and Payback, a recent Lifetime premiere with a fresh-faced cast that really dropped the ball, the new names found in The Price of Fitting In give authentic performances as well-defined characters. Elizabeth Adams certainly makes her mark with this film debut, so it only makes sense that among the trio of anti-drug Lifetime movies I've seen over these past few days, The Price of Fitting In stands out as the best.
Score: 9 out of 10 yellow scrunchies.