Written by Jennifer Maisel (story by Jane Green)
Directed by Manu Boyer and Kim Raver
This new film premiered on the Lifetime channel tonight. It’s based on a best-selling novel of the same name by Jane Green (which I personally have not read) and stars Alyssa Milano (whom I love, and is the reason why I watched this film). From the commercials, it was clear that the basic plot is that Milano plays a married woman who has an affair with another man and ends up pregnant by him, which I found particularly interesting as this was the opening plot of Milano’s character on her former TV series, MISTRESSES. In that role, Milano was able to make us feel sympathetic for her character, despite the fact that she’d done a horrible thing, and I was curious to see if she could do so again.
Milano plays Gabby Cartwright, who has been married for 18 years to Elliot (Steve Kazee) and they have two daughters, 12-year-old Alana and 16-year-old Olivia (Beatrice Kitsos and Emilija Baranac). As the film opens we learn that Gabby and Elliot have been going through a rough patch in the marriage recently over a disagreement about whether or not they should have another child. Gabby, feeling her age at 42, had been wanting to have one more while they still could, while Elliot is not interested. Elliot had gone behind Gabby’s back and gotten a vasectomy, which infuriates Gabby that he would do so without consulting her, and this has lead to a strain in their relationship.
One weekend while Elliot’s away, Gabby meets a handsome young millionaire from out of town named Matt (Zane Holtz), and there’s a clear mutual attraction. Matt is working on the building of a new school in the city, and when he finds out that Gabby has been working on her own burgeoning business in refurbishing furniture, he enlists her help in the project. Matt goes back to his home in Malibu and over the next few weeks (months? The exact passage of time is not clear) he and Gabby communicate by text for ideas about the school.
This is one of the best parts of the film, in my opinion. Over a montage, we see Gabby and Matt’s “friendship” progressing via their back and forth texts, and it shows exactly how this sort of thing often happens. This isn’t the typical portrayal of an affair in a movie, in which a married person just suddenly loses all control when they meet an attractive person and hops into bed with them. This starts off as an innocent business relationship that slowly begins taking on and more and more intimate nature as they become increasingly flirtatious with each other. And you can see how someone like Gabby may feel that it’s harmless due to it being “long distance” (I may have missed the mention of where Gabby lives, but it appears to be somewhere on the East Coast). That changes when Matt returns to town and continues is flirting with Gabby, who now realizes that things are going too far and tries nip things in the bud. But things with her and Elliot are still rocky, and when he’s out of town again, Matt comes over and one thing leads to another. . .
Afterward, Gabby is wracked with guilt and makes it clear to Matt that this can never happen again, which he seems to accept. But then Gabby finds out that she is pregnant, and since Elliot had a vasectomy, that means that Matt is the father. Despite one of her friend’s suggestion that she get an abortion, Gabby can’t even consider such a thing. She wants to have the baby but also wants to keep her marriage, and these means having to come clean to Elliot about her affair and hoping he’ll forgive her.
Now, if you’re familiar with Lifetime Original Movies, you can probably guess what will happen next. Elliot will be angry but decide to forgive Gabby and raise her child as his own, but when Matt finds out he’s going to decide that he wants Gabby for himself, and turn out to be a murderous psychopath who starts stalking the couple, maybe even attempting to kill Elliot and/or kidnap Gabby and lock her in a basement. Right?
That’s the biggest twist of this film, it’s that’s it’s not your typical Lifetime woman in danger film. It’s not an exploitative thriller, this is a serious drama about the effects of adultery. Gabby’s reveal comes an hour into the film, the final hour is all about her dealing with the emotional fallout, not just between Gabby and Elliot, but also with each of their relationships with their two daughters. Not to mention their mutual friends and, of course, Matt. I don’t want to say too much more for fear of spoilers. But I would argue that a film like this is far more of an effective anti-adultery film than Fatal Attraction and films of that ilk, as it shows how one person’s actions affect not just themselves but also those around you. And, yes, Alyssa Milano’s Gabby does come off as sympathetic, especially as we watch her entire life crumble. By the time the film is coming to a close, you are rooting for a happy ending, as implausible as it may seem. I’d also argue that the film effectively warns against not communicating with your partner, as it was a lack of communication between Gabby and Elliot which lead to her being vulnerable to Matt’s advances.
Speaking of which, while Milano carries the majority of the film, I must also give high marks to Steve Kazee for his portrayal of Elliot. Thankfully he’s not written as a boorish neglectful husband, he’s not perfect, but it’s clear that he loves his wife and her portrayal wrecks him. Zane Holtz is also surprisingly sympathetic as Matt, and the young ladies playing the daughters also excel in their roles. Credit to screenwriter Jennifer Maisel (and author Jane Green) for filling this script with multiple nuanced characters.
Exciting, suspenseful, and dramatic, Tempting Fate is must-see TV, I highly recommend it.