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Dating as a teen is a tumultuous process, and it's even harder for teens in Lifetime films. It seems whenever a teen finds love in the Lifetimeverse, they're a unstable psychopath or a twisted sexual predator. It's not surprising that Lifetime is so commonly associated with the Soccer Mom division; most Lifetime movies involving teenagers basically double as cautionary tales to naive adolescents.
2010's The Boy She Met Online is a prime example. 17-year-old Cami Winters (Tracy Spiridakos) is a typical teen: she has good grades, good friends, and an attentive mother in Tori (Baywatch and Lifetime alum Alexandra Paul). Problem is, Cami considers Tori too attentive, and is trying to dictate her entire life. This is what drives Cami to search for a boyfriend online, where she meets Jake Byers (Jon Cor). From Cami's knowledge, Jake is in college studying to become an electric engineer, but you probably guess by the poster above that there's something he's not telling.
And that truth is that Jake is actually in prison for participating in a store robbery, and is keeping his relationship with Cami going via prison phones and daily Internet access. Once Jake is released from prison, he finally meets Cami in person, and at first, their relationship flourishes in real life just as well as it did over cyberspace. But as Cami deals with her mother's insistence on knowing what she's up to and Jake struggles to readjust to life as an ex-convict, Jake's old friend Edgar (Tim Finnigan) begins pulling him back to his old life, and Cami's ends up in the crossfire....
This movie's single greatest accomplishment is that, despite the plot synopsis putting her in a position to go down the trodded "Naïve Teen" path, Cami doesn't come off as a brain dead moron blindly falling in love with an obvious psychopath. While Cami's "head-over-heels" falling for Jake can get irritating at moments, it's clear from the get go that Cami isn't dumb; she's just has the naïveté that one can expect from a sheltered, suburban high school student. Spiridakos plays Cami, for better and for worse, with authenticity, portraying her transformation from happy-go-lucky teen to a fragile young woman in over her head and desperate to return to the ideal life she previously took for granted.
Spiridakos isn't alone in pulling her weight; in fact, everyone here does a spectacular job. Alexandra Paul plays an empathetic performance as Tori, playing her role of the protective mother without going past the border into overbearing-ness. Tim Finnigan played Edgar with a tranquil yet lethal fury that he comes off as a low-key terrifying villain. Even Thea Gill and Cinthia Burke (who respectively play Tori's best friend Kendra and Jake's estranged sister Celeste) make the best use of their limited screen time to develop their characters into fully rounded people.
But special praise must be given to Jon Cor's excellent portrayal of ex-convict Jake. Initially, one could be forgiven for thinking Jake would end up being the typical violent, hair trigger-tempered douchebag Lifetime movies are wont to feature. He's initially rude, aggressive, and is quick to cut himself off from his family when he sees that they won't bail him out again. But over the course of the movie, and as his relationship with Cami grows deeper, a different side of Jake emerges. For his gritty and pessimistic exterior, Jake is quickly shown to have good within him--and true compassion (dare say even love) for Cami, with his abrasiveness forming as a result of not being able to live a life without his past demons haunting him. By the end of the movie, as things spiral out of control and Jake comes to realize that he's put himself and Cami in this situation, he fully shows his good nature by apologizing for pulling Cami into his former world and finally stands up to Edgar to protect her.
The Boy She Met Online is an excellent start to Lifetime's famous "Met Online" saga, with strong characters and acting, and a surprisingly original story, making this a movie that is essential for Lifetime lovers—and a good film to show to people who doubt the power that is a Lifetime movie.
Score: 9 out of 10 love emails.