STUDIO: Sony Pictures
MSRP: $14.94
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

  • Remembering Natalee

The Pitch

“On May 30, 2005, on a high school graduation trip to Aruba, she disappeared without a trace. This is the true story of her family’s search for justice.”

The Humans

Starring Tracy Pollan, Grant Show, and Catherine Dent. Written by Teena Booth. Directed by Mikael Salomon.

The Nutshell

Everybody already knows the story of missing Alabama teen Natalie Holloway, including the creative minds behind this film. In order to demonstrate this knowledge they have regurgitated it back to us in dramatic form, with no new insight or information. What’s the moral of the story here? That, aw, it’s so sad? Yep, it sure is, and we definitely needed a zeitgeist grasping made for TV movie to make sure we understood that, because the weeks and weeks of nearly round the clock news coverage weren’t enough, right?

I don’t have a funny caption, just wanted to point out that this scene is scored with a cheesy rip off of Hollaback Girl. Oh low budget TV movies, will you ever learn?

The Lowdown

Not that it would be realistic to expect otherwise from a TV movie, but there’s no depth, no insight, no interesting editorial stances on the part of the filmmakers, no gray areas on display here. The movie feeds right into the knee-jerk emotion and sensationalism that characterized the media’s coverage of the story. The Van Der Sloots are eeeeeevil, Beth Twitty is like a momma bear protecting her cub, officials handling the case are corrupt, ineffectual, or both.

The quality of the filmmaking is uniformly on the level of a Lifetime original movie, because that’s essentially what this is.  Tracy Pollan as Natalee’s mother Beth is like a bad impression of the worst Holly Hunter performance ever. Natalee herself, as portrayed by Gumenick, is no-dimensional. The writer seemingly based this characterization on the photos of her they used on the 24-hour news networks. In fact the writing is uniformly terrible, like when Beth compliments (I think?) Natalee by telling her she looks like a bowl of ice cream, or a scene in which Natalee’s step-brother, functioning as a surrogate for the absolute stupidest members of the audience, asks Beth utterly moronic questions so that she can spoon-feed the viewer information and emotions.

“You can’t see it from there, but I’m actually date raping another girl at this very moment”

There’s a moment halfway through the film when a police detective looks sees a mob of reporters and says to his partner, “is there nothing else going on in the world?” It’s meant to be taken as an illustration of the apathy, incompetence, and corruption of the Aruban police, which would be an understandable way to feel if you were, say, Natalee’s loved ones. But the detective’s question is a perfectly valid one to ask of the media, and by extension this film.  This was undeniably a tragic event for those it directly affected, but one that never should have been blown up to the international proportions it was, or dragged out endlessly for ratings. Tellingly enough, the only real news footage the film uses is from the Nancy Grace Show, some of the least evenhanded or levelheaded journalism this side of Fox News.  Of course, Natalee’s mom shares culpability in creating the media circus – and this film is, after all, based on her account of what happened. But what’s achieved by rehashing this personal story once again?

The best adaptations of real life stories find ways to make them interesting and applicable to people who didn’t experience them personally. Fincher’s Zodiac, for example, makes the audience feel what’s happening, revels in the what ifs, and ultimately tells a thematic story that goes well beyond the actual events being portrayed. This film’s entire worth and significance can be boiled down to the list of safe travel tips printed on the DVD case insert.


The Package

The special featurette, “Remembering Natalee,” is exactly what it sounds like: a reverent tribute to the girl from the cast and crew of the film. I don’t really know what else to say without sounding overly callous. Aw, it’s so sad. So sad indeed.

3.0 out of 10