What’s the slogan for Lifetime again? Isn’t it something like, “television for women?” I know, among other things, Lifetime has always prided itself on its emphasis on women and sharing the female perspective. It is, indeed, a lofty goal, but certainly an admirable one. Then how come, as a man, I find myself so agitated with the female perspective that Lifetime has to offer? Case in point, the Lifetime Gold Collection. This 2 DVD, 4-film collection features Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story, Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy, Ambulance Girl, and We Were the Mulvaneys. The first three, respectively, are true stories with the fourth and final one being an adaptation of a Joyce Carol Oates novel. What then, do these four stories have in common? Besides their shared network, it’s hard to say. It’s certainly even more difficult to say what makes these films so “golden” to the network?
In their early stages, they were undoubtedly a celebration of women: their strength, their beauty, and their triumph in the face of adversity. Unfortunately for Lifetime, something is lost in translation. These extraordinary women, truly worthy of being admired and celebrated, become lifeless. The actresses, some truly great ones such as Kathy Bates and Blythe Danner, become empty husks of the women that inspired them. For instance, in Ambulance Girl, Kathy Bates plays Jane Stern, a middle-aged woman who, along with her husband, has a successful career as a food writer. However, she finds new meaning in her life when she becomes a volunteer EMT. Through it all, the film chronicles Jane’s struggles to overcome her own crippling fears and to succeed as an EMT. At a certain point, Ambulance Girl stops being about Jane’s journey of self-discovery and it becomes the maudlin ramblings of a woman trying to save her marriage to a man who, until now, has not been established as a very caring or giving man. It becomes difficult to invest emotionally in many of their stories because many of them seem to lose focus. Unexpectedly, so many of these films drop their messages of self-improvement, success, and becoming one’s own woman for lackluster storylines about suspected infidelity, marital troubles, and victimization.
This directly contributes to another problematic issue with this film collection. As previously mentioned, a number of these are true stories, extraordinary ones even. Homeless to Harvard: the Liz Murray Story is, as the title suggests, about a young girl who pulls herself out of unfortunate circumstance to become a highly successful undergraduate at Harvard University. While this in and of itself is a fascinating story, Lifetime wastes a good chunk of the movie throwing its titular character a pity party. It victimizes her when it should be accentuating how she became a strong, female role model.
Many of the other movies feature the same issue. These are women who should be idolized, not victimized. They should be celebrated and have their unique stories told. However, Lifetime does not seem to be a network that is familiar with the word “unique.” Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy, about a 27 year old woman diagnosed with breast cancer spends a solid portion of its running time talking about how unusual it is for a woman to be diagnosed at such a young age. Geralyn Lucas, the main character, is truly a subject worth study. Yet, most of the film shows her wallowing with her friends, eating chocolate and ice cream with a glass of wine in hand. With such a one-of-a-kind story, Lifetime fills so much of these films with details to make their female characters, perhaps, more readily relatable to their female audience. They accentuate the ordinary elements of their lives so that viewers can identify with the character onscreen. Unfortunately, from a male perspective, it just reduces these exemplary women to laughable clichés.
The Lifetime Gold Collection has the right idea. More movies need to be made about women: movies about their successes and failures, their loves and losses, but more importantly, movies about them. For a network that champions itself as television for women, it’s hard to see the appeal these movies might hold for women. Each one of these is absolutely stories worth telling. Unfortunately, the way they are told is hackneyed, tired, and sometimes even offensive. Women are victims enough in this modern world, these movies should celebrate the gender. Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story spends so much of its time trying to make the audience feel bad for her that it almost completely neglects the fact that she overcame her circumstances and got in to Harvard. Each one of these films features a similar, if not the same, flaw that, sadly, strips it of its well-intentioned message.
The Lifetime Gold Collection features four movies on 2 DVDs. Spanish and English subtitles are available, with no other special features to mention. It will be released on DVD on November 6, 2012.