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You are never entitled to someone's love.
That cryptic opening is essentially the lesson of Lifetime's 2017 offering Girlfriend Killer. It's a lesson that Emerson Banes (Jason Cook) clearly hasn't learned. The movie starts off with him planning to propose to his girlfriend Marissa Stefans (Elisabetta Fantone), hiring the services of Carmen Ruiz (Barbie Castro) to do so. For, as you see, Carmen runs a popular proposal arrangement business, which is displayed in adorable fashion in the film's opening. But in Emerson's case, his proposal ends not with a yes, but with Marissa revealing that she was in love with a man she had been seeing behind his back before tearfully walking away.
Heartbroken at Emerson's rejected proposal, Carmen comforts the crestfallen man, assuring him that he would find the woman for him someday. Unfortunately for Carmen, Emerson interprets Carmen's compassion for attraction and decides she is the perfect woman for him, and won't let anything—including her boyfriend Ryan Gerner (Brian Gross) and teenage daughter Ayla (Taylor Castro, Barbie Castro's real life daughter, giving their mother-daughter relationship an added sense of authenticity)—stand in his way.
While it ultimately follows the standard "Man Obsesses Over Woman" plotline Lifetime has practically trademarked, Girlfriend Killer manages to do what its sister movie, Boyfriend Killer, wasn't able to do: take its' well-worn premise and spice it up with its own unique aspects. Carmen's business allows for such aspects to be developed, with the aforementioned adorable opening and a later proposal between a same-sex couple serving as both entertaining plot breaks and, in the case of the latter moment, displaying a cultural awareness I hope Lifetime will continue to adopt in the future as times progress.
The characters also help the film, with all the actors playing their characters realistically. Barbie Castro is immensely likable as the deeply compassionate Carmen, with the same applying to Brian Gross as her loving boyfriend who winds up in the crosshairs of Emerson's obsession. Taylor Castro gives a surprisingly authentic take on the Bratty Teenage Daughter role, playing Ayla with the right amount of adolescent angst while not going overboard to the point of unlikability.
One of the brightest gems in the cast, however, would be Jason Cook as the psychotic, can't-take-rejection Emerson Banes. While one might be inclined to share in Carmen's initial sympathy for Emerson following the heartbreaking rejection of his proposal to his girlfriend, Emerson's first few scenes hint at Emerson's true personality. As we see him buy a ring to give to Marissa, and hear him brag about how he can just buy another ring for her if she doesn't like his choice, we get a brief and subtle insight into how Emerson's mind works: that his money and charm can win him anything he wants. His initial response to the revelation of Marissa's infidelity is not of heartbreak or anger at being betrayed; rather, his anger seems to be centered around losing something he believed to belong to him. In these few scenes, Emerson's villainy is almost fully revealed, with a subtlety most wouldn't associate with Lifetime.
Girlfriend Killer isn't without shortcomings. Dina Meyer, a great actress with a good deal of excellent Lifetime performances under her belt, is unfortunately saddled with a rather routine role of a detective investigating Emerson's crimes. The film's middle can drag out a bit, and Ayla's resistance to the efforts of her father's new love interest can cross the line from understanding given the family situation to unwarranted. But overall, Girlfriend Killer is an entertaining film to watch over a warm pizza on a lazy Saturday, bound to keep you involved with the plot and characters and enjoying yourself with the drama and thrills.
Scores: 10 out of 10 birthday cake proposals.