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Fifty Shades of Grey is essentially a Lifetime movie with nudity, more swearing, and made on a much higher budget. It has a plot that has many of the trappings of a Lifetime formula: a naive young woman falls in love with a mysterious yet handsome man, who quickly turns out to have many secrets in his past. Only differences: Christian Grey isn't a raving murderous lunatic and the series (to my knowledge) doesn't end with Anastasia escaping his clutches and ending the movie happily surrounded by family.
Lifetime, much like Criminal Minds and Law & Order: SVU, took the opportunity to cash in on the craze that E.L. James's divisive erotica novel series created in 2014 with The Secret Sex Life of a Single Mom. Lifetime amped the film up as being a mature, passionate erotic film, with its premiere garnishing "Viewer Discretion Advised" warnings after each commercial. Of course, this surely got many Lifetime fans flocking to the TV premiere....
And I can imagine they were sorely disappointed by what was given to them in exchange for all that buildup. Because aside from having a title that sounds like the cheesy romance novels you find on a rack at your local supermarket, The Secret Sex Life of a Single Mom is far too tame for its subject matter and arguably contains Grey's flaws in amplified magnitude.
Delaine Morris (Ashley Jones) has a typical Lifetime-esque life. She's the mother of two and has a husband named Robert (Scott Gibson) who is a typical jackhole husband that has been present in roughly 75 percent of Lifetime movies throughout history. After learning of her husband's infidelity, Delaine has her own affair with her friend Graham (Jeff Roop), who she falls in love with and decides to divorce Robert for.
But soon after, Delaine learns that Graham is already in a relationship with another woman and is left devastated. But soon after, Delaine begins to explore the world of online dating and meets a man known as "The Duke" (Alex Carter), who sets her on a path of sexual liberation that will leave her transformed....
That final line summarizes how hackneyed and over-the-top Secret Sex Life of a Single Mom is, and unlike the best Lifetime movies, it's not over-the-top in an entertaining way. For all of the promise of risqué material the promos advertised, the movie has very little on-screen sex, making the TV-MA rating look like it was the product of a marketing ploy. It's understandable that there are few boundaries that can be crossed on basic television, but when you advertise something as pushing said boundaries and instead show something as edgy as a Nickelback song, it's downright manipulative.
Characters are a mixed bag, with Delaine and "The Duke" being the only ones to be focused on extensively. Ashley Jones gives a good performance and tries to make Delaine a likable protagonist, but the plot leads her down such a warped path that she comes off looking like a naive idiot. Say what you will about Anastasia Steele, but at least she had the "Young Virginal College Girl" image going for her in the first film. Here, Delaine (a middle aged woman with two young children under her care) easily falls under The Duke's wing, following his instructions for little to no reason. This includes seducing a 20-something man into a relationship to use as a "boy toy," and dump him once he begins showing signs of wanting their relationship to be serious. This move, in particular, makes Delaine come off as a callous idiot, and The Duke look like a sociopath who enjoys toying with women under the guise of sexually liberating them.
The Duke being an unlikable character is not the fault of Alex Carter by any means. Carter has moments of playing Delaine's mysterious suitor with authentic charm that can almost make you forgive Delaine for being seduced by his creepy orders. But unfortunately, The Duke's behaviors come off as cold and controlling rather than liberating and gratifying. The way his voice goes emotionless as he lays out the rules for his relationship with Delaine (including the film's infamous "You will not wear panties in my presence" line) is eerie and might make the casual viewer think this is going to be a typical Lifetime film. But instead, the movie treats The Duke's actions as "empowering" to Delaine and paints him as a savior to women, which is arguably much worse than how E.L. James paints Christian Grey.
The Secret Sex Life of a Single Mom may not be a true "Tainted Love" Lifetime film, but it certainly would've been more entertaining had it been one. Instead, we get a steamy, erotic thriller without the steamy eroticism with unappealing characters, wasted acting talent, and a falsely established male "hero." This will certainly make for a good, "so bad, it's laughable" watch to view with your snarkiest group of friends, but other than that, this is one Lifetime movie that should stay a secret.
Score: 3 out of 10 panties.