Lifetime Review: 'The Wrong Stepmother'
Cindy Busby is a wannabe stepmother obsessed in this intense and well-acted thriller.
Since her mother's death, Lily Stone (Calli Taylor) has taken on a lot of responsibilities, doing her best to heal from the loss alongside her father Michael (Corin Nemec) and little sister Nicole (McKinley Blehm). Then one morning, Michael drops a surprising bombshell on his daughters: he's recently begun dating a woman he met online, and is ready for the girls to meet her.
While Michael's new girlfriend Maddie (Cindy Busby) instantly charms Nicole, Lily is more hesitant to welcome Maddie into her family. Even as Maddie tries to get Lily to warm up to her, Lily finds herself suspecting something amiss with her father's new girlfriend. While Michael believes Lily's feelings to be unwarranted, Lily soon realizes Maddie is determined to have a place in her family--and is not above getting her hands dirty to have the perfect family she longs for.
Nine out of ten times, a stepparent appearing in a Lifetime movie is going to be evil. Hell, it wasn't too long ago I was reviewing a movie focusing entirely on an evil stepparent. Given that the trope has been around for decades, it's hardly surprising that the concept has been picked up by Lifetime. In the case of The Wrong Stepmother, though, Maddie technically isn't that to Lily given that she and Michael don't get married, but given that obtaining that title is a big part of her game plan, the title still fits.
(Also, I'm assuming David DeCoteau has plans for a The Wrong Girlfriend in the future, so maybe he's saving that title for a later date).
Speaking of Maddie, the "Wrong" series once again delivers a stellar villain, with Cindy Busby obviously having a blast playing the deranged Maddie. Maddie's true colors are shown pretty much from the very beginning, and her actions only snowball as the film progresses and Lily's resistance causes Maddie's doting mask to crack. Much like Ivy Matheson in The Wrong Tutor, Busby goes all the way in showing Maddie's psychotic nature--particularly during the film's third act--and excels at bringing all the thrills and Lifetimey-ness that fans are always in the mood for.
WARNING: Spoilers below
It's Busby's portrayal of Maddie had actually saves what could've been a disappointing ending a-la Wrong Tutor and Wrong Boy Next Door. In a sort of combination of the climaxes of both films, Wrong Stepmother has its' climax consisting of a knife-wielding Maddie holding Michael and Lily at knifepoint and stabbing the former, proclaiming the family was going to do what she said in order for her to create her "perfect family". But upon hearing the police approaching, Maddie screams out "Your loss!" before fleeing the house, with an alternate ending showing her finding a new family to insert herself into after meeting a widowed father and daughter at a park.
What keeps this conclusion from irking me like Wrong Boy Next Door is that unlike John Link, Maddie's abrupt departure without further harming her victims aligns well with how Busby portrays Maddie. In a similar vein to Charles Hittinger's portrayal of Devin Fletch from Bad Tutor, Busby plays Maddie as a psychotic spoiled teenager in a grown woman's body. Throughout the film, Maddie's obsession with integrating herself into the Stone family and becoming further enraged at the family failing to welcome her with open arms and conform to her high standards, Maddie is established as a woman determined not just to have a perfect family, but one that will obey her without resistance. This characterization is displayed at its best when Michael begins wisening up to Maddie's true nature, and is in full force for the film's dramatic climax. While not a perfect conclusion, it works out a lot better than how they played out in Boy Next Door and Tutor.
As for the rest of the cast, Calli Taylor (who would later star in the aforementioned Wrong Boy Next Door) is sympathetic as Lily, lacking the unjustifiably bratty qualities that might've turned viewers off from Katie Foreman and growing to be enjoyably fierce in her efforts to save her family from Maddie's clutches. Corin Nemec is refreshingly sympathetic as the unsuspecting Michael, making up for the moments when his blindness to Maddie's true nature becomes too much to swallow. McKinley Blehm retains the likability that gave her a strong presence in My Daughter's Ransom, and Mitchell Hoog is charming and shares good chemistry with Taylor as Lily's boyfriend Patrick, who ends up plays a key role in her investigations into Maddie.
A surprising strong side performance comes from Gina Hiraizumi as Michael's co-worker Cynthia, who shares strong chemistry with Nemec and Taylor and displays in touching detail Cynthia's implied feelings for Michael, transforming who could've been a generic side character into a sympathetic decoy protagonist. Tracy Nelson also appears as a significant person related to Maddie, sharing a short but strong emotional scene with Taylor that makes the most of her screen time.
Vivica A. Fox appears in the role of school counselor Ms. Price, and her limited appearances in the film are well utilized by Fox. Appearing as a stern but well-meaning authority figure, Fox makes Ms. Price likable and she shares the same strong connection with Taylor that she would have in The Wrong Boy Next Door. A scene where her relationship with Lily is threatened by Maddie's scheming threatens to derail her character as would happened in The Wrong Mommy, but the film thankfully averts this by giving Ms. Price a thoroughly cathartic moment where she calls Maddie out for said scheme, as well as for lacking the maternal instincts she has deluded herself into believing she possesses. It all makes for perhaps the best scene of The Wrong Stepmother, which not only gives Fox a chance to show her talents, but also create a parallel between her truthful maternal nature over Lily and Nicole against Maddie's delusional idea of being a "perfect mother".
After seeing how many of DeCoteau's recent "Wrong" movies have botched aspects in them that, in some cases, threaten to destroy any enjoyment the films have, The Wrong Stepmother proves to be an entertaining romp into Lifetime's "Wicked Stepparent" genre, and even succeeds in an aspect that other films in the saga mishandled. With a strong villainous performance from Cindy Busby and her fellow main cast members, a well-structured plot, and great side performances to liven up the proceedings, The Wrong Stepmother turns out to be the right movie for anyone looking for Lifetime at its' best.
Score: 9 out of 10 college application essays.