The USA World Premiere Movie Project – MY STEPSON, MY LOVER (1997)

Join us for our year-long celebration of the USA World Premiere Movie in conjunction with Made-for-TV Mayhem! Check out out previous entries on THE FORGOTTEN here, MURDER BY NIGHT here, THE TICKET here, SNOW KILL here, DEADLY GAME here, ACCIDENTAL MEETING here, HITLER’S DAUGHTER here, ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT? here, AS GOOD AS DEAD here and MURDER ON SHADOW MOUNTAIN here, TRUCKS here, OUR MOTHER’S MURDER here , THE HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE here, ULTIMATE DECEPTION here, NIGHTMARE ON THE 13TH FLOOR here and WRITER’S BLOCK here, THE CHIPPENDALES MURDER here, RUBDOWN here, THE SUBSTITUTE here and THE CHINA LAKE MURDERS here, DIAMOND FLEECE here and RUNNING AGAINST TIME here!

Look at that title. LOOK AT IT. It’s about as promisingly lurid a title a made-for-TV movie can get. It promises so much sordid duplicity in four simple words. It’s all of the glorious efficiency of a USA World Premiere Movie distilled into one phrase. MY STEPSON – oh, it’s about a family relationship! MY LOVER – oh, it’s about a SEXY family relationship with all sorts of danger implied! You don’t get better titles than that. Not MOTHER, MAY I SLEEP WITH DANGER?, not CYBER SEDUCTION: HIS SECRET LIFE, not CO-ED CALL GIRL. I’ma let you finish, THE CRAIGSLIST KILLER, but MY STEPSON, MY LOVER had one of the best titles OF ALL TIME!

And the producers of the DVD destroyed everything. Because what title did the film find itself with when released to the digital format?


Ugh. Terrible. You probably aren’t even reading this sentence because the tediously bland title put you straight into a coma from which only the true-life tale of a psychotic diaper-wearing astronaut can release you. The producers are just terribly foolish human beings, transforming the greatest title of a TV-movie ever into something that sounds like a low-rated domestic drama that ran on UPN for 6 episodes in 2002. Let’s change that a little.


Ah, much better.

(One side note: MY STEPSON, MY LOVER, like many other USA World Premiere Movies, is often identified as a Lifetime movie. IT IS NOT, and just because it’s most frequently aired on the “Television for Women” channel doesn’t mean it was made for them. Those that credit the wrong network for producing such splendid entertainment are terribly foolish human beings as well. May they be stalked by a cheerleader-murdering, cancer-ridden deranged foster mother/substitute teacher/prostitute played by Tori Spelling.)

Title aside, MY STEPSON, MY LOVER is, of course, not half as torrid as it should be, though it’s certainly entertainingly silly stuff. PET SEMATARY’s Mary Lambert returns to her “Material Girl” music video-directing roots with a tale of nurse Caitlin (Rachel Ward), who finds herself involved with the incredibly wealthy Richard Cory (Terry O’Quinn) after she’s partially responsible for saving his life by doing her job during his heart surgery. He woos her with flowers, a silver heart necklace in a giant heart box (because she saved his heart!) and other improbably-wrapped gifts that can be opened without having to tear any paper, but her morality won’t let her be taken out to dinner until he buys a playroom for her hospital. She may be wooed by wealth, but it’s an ethical golddigging!


This seems less sketchy than it actually is thanks to the performance of O’Quinn, no stranger to the role of the oddly seductive sleazebag. You buy the fact that he’s off-putting enough for Caitlin to not succumb to his immediate advances (let’s face it, O’Quinn isn’t exactly the sexiest stud on the market) but charming enough for her to be pulled in eventually. That’s not to say his ridiculously transparent advances aren’t creepy or bordering on harassment, but it’s Terry O’Quinn! So it’s all good. I mean, look at this face and tell me you wouldn’t want some of that, or at least would tolerate it if he was filthy, filthy rich.


And Caitlin eventually gives in, starting a mellow bluegrass music montage-laden romance that’s not the least bit unconvincing, culminating in a marriage proposal that gives a hint that Richard’s actually a much bigger control freak than he let on. Caitlin doesn’t care, however, because she’s smitten, and the two have a big ol’ wedding while mellow bluegrass music plays. (Her best friend Delia, played by familiar character vet Tonea Stewart, is envious.)

The wedding festivities get a little awkward when Caitlin meets Richard’s ex-girlfriend (and high powered executive type) Bonnie Winstead (Marguerite Lowell) but things pick up when Caitlin wanders to the stables and gets a load of this:


She mistakes him for a stable hand at first, but he’s soon, of course, revealed to be the stepson of the title, whose relationship with his father is as strained as his relationship with wearing fully-closed shirts. Played by soap star Joshua Morrow, Eric wants nothing to do with his father’s vaguely-defined business and just wants, as his father puts it, “motorcycling and women.”

Caitlin soon finds that being married to an insanely rich control freak means that he doesn’t want her to work as a nurse anymore, instead preferring that she spend her days Anne Romney-ing it up and sipping mimosas (or whatever the hell the rich drink) while serving on committees that attempt to serve starving horses with disabilities or something. (“It’d be different if you edited a fashion magazine,” Richard says.) Caitlin, however, wants her own life, and the two begin to drift apart, especially after she finds that his insights into her life don’t come from the most honest means and that he lied to her about his sperm’s abilities as well. We also learn that Richard has an extensive small arms collection, which I’m sure will never come into play later in the film.


The bored Caitlin becomes closer with Eric, who’s started hanging around more and takes her on motorcycle rides to isolated swimming holes while mellow bluegrass music plays. They go out for drinks (he dresses up by wearing a shirt) and dance, fix up a house together and everything just nice and only sorta-creepy (including Eric peeping in on her during a moonlight swim) until Eric makes a pass. Caitlin shrugs it off, but soon her relationship with Richard gets even worse and he won’t grant a divorce, leaving her with loins unsated by man-action.

So where better to sate those loins than with Eric, who approaches her fresh from a swim all glistening in his wet-haired shirtlessness. She does, for the record, feel bad about it and rushes home to her hubby, but he’s in full STEPFATHER mode and storms out of the house. She tails him to Eric’s secret sexytime shack and finds Eric silent and Richard near death on some nearby rocks.


The resulting investigation is so traumatic that Eric is forced to wear a shirt that neither opens completely nor shows off his shoulders during his interrogation. Caitlin is traumatized as well, especially after the relationship between she and her stepson comes to light. What happened that night? Will Caitlin and Eric live happily ever after? Will Caitlin be romanced by someone else while mellow bluegrass music plays?  Will Eric wear a damn shirt?

MY STEPSON, MY LOVER is as soapy and ridiculous as the title suggests, even if the cast tries to play is straight to the best of their ability. The trial sequence is especially fun, with Caitlin being described as a “black widow” and her gold digger status being questioned. The only issue is that Caitlin is such a sincere person, so it never quite reaches the great heights of goofiness that THE SUBSTITUTE offers, but Morrow’s soap opera background makes him pretty much a perfect piece of man flesh to fill the required over-the-top quota. Lambert’s direction plays up the sincere aspects of the film, with only scant nods jutting the film into pure melodrama, but it’s still a fun ride with plenty of facepalm-worthy moments.


Unlike most films in the USA World Premiere Movie Project, you can actually see the film with a group audience, at least if you’re in Chicago this Friday. “Once In a Lifetime,” a series showcasing the most notable of Lifetime movies (of which this IS NOT ONE but moving on…) is showing the flick for free at the Logan Square Comfort Station, featuring a live commentary that’s sure to pick out the best of the film’s lurid charms. Check out the event page here!

@Paul Freitag-Fey


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