STUDIO: Lifetime Home Video
MSRP: $19.98
RATED: Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 90/89 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: One featurette per disc

The Pitch

"Let’s hire men to write and direct movies about aborted feminism!"

The Humans

Widow on the Hill: Natasha Henstridge (Species, Ghosts of Mars), James Brolin (The Amityville Horror), Jewel Staite (Serenity).

Lies My Mother Told Me: Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck), Colm Feore ( Chicago), Hayden Panettiere (Ice Princess).

The Nutshell

Barest nutshell: You get two mediocre movies for the price of one.

In Widow on the Hill Linda, a serial wife whose failed relationships were not entirely the fault of the other party, is a nurse who is hired by Hank to provide home care for his dying wife. That care amounts to easing her pain, as Hank’s wife dies soon after Linda arrives. Hank becomes a grieving widower — a grieving, rich widower, and Linda moves in quickly for the kill, at odds with Hank’s daughter.

Linda convinces Hank to marry her, and her opportunistic ways carry her into polite society, into the pants of the stable boy, and almost into a divorce. When Hank realizes what a bitch Linda is, he sets up to divorce her, to write her out of his will. He winds up dead; his daughter believes Linda killed him; and the writers don’t care one way or the other, leaving the mystery unsolved.

In Lies My Mother Told Me (based on a true story!) a fugitive mother escapes her hometown law and takes her daughter on the lam with her. The story is told with the daughter’s narration (but not from her point of view) and follows the mother’s many small-minded schemes to win money, favor, or respectability — mostly for herself, but with a little trickle-down for her daughter. After a particularly awful murder plan (and an excruciating half-hour climax of dreadful overacting) the law catches up with the mother and carts her away, leaving the daughter to pick through the debris for a Valuable Life Lesson.

"Let’s hire a man to take screenshots of an aborted feminist drama!"

The Package

Each movie comes on its own disc inside the keep-case. Each disc features the movie in 1.33:1 fullscreen with Dolby digital 2.0 sound, plus a single throwaway documentary featurette. The featurettes are marketing fluff, like the interviews you might see on Entertainment Tonight.

The cinematography for both movies is slightly above-par. Widow on the Hill has a moody, misty look that seems to have inspired by classic Gothic literature. This works well for a story that essentially moves the crazy woman down from the attic and into the parlor.

Lies My Mother Told Me has a good variety of visual styles to suit the shifting timeline, but, sadly, the editing is not up to the level of the cinematography. It feels as if a newbie editor is emptying his bag of school tricks, with fades-to-white, skipped frames, and awkward jump cuts.

The Lowdown

Both of these flicks are soap operas in that there is more time invested in twisting up the plot to hideous degrees than in developing characters. A soap opera derives its momentum from the endless "What will happen next?" involvement of the audience; that works fine in episodic content, and even fools some people into believing there is depth to the characters in those situations, but it works less well in a 90-minute movie format.

Misleading Screencap #2

A major problem in sustaining the story for both of these movies is that there is no room for sympathy for any of their characters, with the possible exception of James Brolin’s Hank in Widow. Linda, in that film, isn’t designed to engender sympathy, but instead to provoke the audience into a righteous indignation — the problem is that the indignation falls short when the people that Linda is supposedly harming all are flat, lifeless and, worse, plotless. In Lies, Richardson‘s mother character is decently acted (read: weepy) but shallow, and again is sort of a suburban femme fatale with no decent antagonist. What’s worse is that Panattiere’s portrayal of the daughter — the one whose interior monologue the audience hears — does everything to make both herself and her mother less sympathetic. The daughter is just as selfish as her mother is, with the added bonus of a healthy measure of ugly jealousy.

Neither movie portrays scenarios that rise above the clich├ęs of their concepts, and so both are somewhat more of a chore than a pleasure to watch. The technical aspects of Widow on the Hill (and the presence of Jewel Staite) make it more watchable than Lies My Mother Told Me, but not by much.

Widow on the Hill: 4.8 out of 10
Lies My Mother Told Me: 4.5 out of 10