Review: James Franco's 'Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?' an absurd lesbian-vampire drama on Lifetime

College girl-next-door Leah (Leila George) falls for a lady vampire. Mom won't be happy about that.
College girl-next-door Leah (Leila George) falls for a lady vampire. Mom won't be happy about that.
Published June 15, 2016

Lifetime knows exactly what it's doing. You settle into yet another viewing of a so-bad-it's-good movie, and you wonder, where is my life going? This treasured channel built its glory on our love of nonsensical paranoia and intrigue. And last year, the network celebrated 25 years of danger-porn entertainment with A Deadly Adoption, a parody on everything we love about these tantalizing tales. It even starred comedic geniuses Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, who played it completely straight.

So this year — at a time when movie remakes reign supreme — Lifetime brings us Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?, a delicious twist complete with lesbians, vampires and literature lessons, oh my!

The Mother that started it all premiered on NBC in 1996 and starred TV movie queen Tori Spelling. Twenty years and millions of replays later, the story remains the quintessential Lifetime movie standard. Spelling plays a girl hopelessly in love with her obsessive boyfriend (Ivan Sergei) who is really bad at crime. Her mother easily figures out the guy's criminal past, and ultimately saves her daughter from, you guessed it, danger.

Writer, actor and producer James Franco is the madman behind this buzzworthy topical remake. We open with Pearl (Emily Meade), turned into a Nightwalker. ("Vampire" was too trite?) A few years later, we meet college girl-next-door Leah (Leila George), a girl whose shirts just can't seem to fit her. And because we really can have it all, Spelling and Sergei return. Sergei plays Leah's schmaltzy literature professor who gives lectures about the parallels of Bram Stoker's Dracula as a queer figure and Van Helsing as the oppressive heteronormative society. Leah even raises fair points about Twilight and teenage sexuality. (Classic lit-snob Franco at work here.)

But Leah is pathetically in love with bloodsucker Pearl, a photographer who parties with a group of vampire vigilantes. The goth girl group secretly wants to turn Leah into a fellow Nightwalker, so together they can rid house parties of would-be date rapists. Seriously. But Leah is unaware of the danger surrounding her, and instead frets about coming out to her conservative mother, Julie (Spelling, who cements herself as the best gratuitous actor).

Once Leah thinks things are fine between her and her mother, she focuses on her lead role in the school's production of Macbeth. It's directed by Franco's character, who marvels in his new sexed-up feminist approach. But there's nothing groundbreaking about it. It just means lots of girl-on-girl over-the-clothes groping, over-the-top monologues and blood spatter.

There's one dude who's not having any of it: Leah's classmate Bob. BOB. He is miffed that for some reason she's not attracted to his backward baseball cap and stringy hair. And Leah's mother is disappointed that it's not him she's bringing home to dinner. Julie not only doesn't know how to cook but also doesn't understand basic parenting: Forbidding her daughter from seeing her girlfriend only makes her run into Pearl's arms.

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And we're supposed to believe that Leah and Pearl's precious love is eternal, even when a graveyard sex scene is both captivating and silly. But the two actors do a great job showing a genuine romance in the face of supernatural gore. And there's lots of that.

The acclaimed cabin scene from the original movie is now a nighttime graveyard romp. It's a delightfully blood-tastic climax that reminds us to re-examine danger. The monsters here serve as larger metaphors, but thankfully Danger's heavy-handed themes don't kill a fun campy Saturday movie night.

Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. on Lifetime. It's best enjoyed with wine and your vampire-loving bestie.