J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Perfect Sisters: The “Bathtub Girls” Kill their Mom

If you sue your parents in court, you will be vilified in the press, but if you drown your mother in a bathtub, movies and TV shows just might invite sympathy on your behalf. That certainly seems to be the case with a new film inspired by the murder of Linda Andersen. To be fair, she comes across as a really, really bad mom, so viewers will not be too terribly disappointed when she expires before the third act of Stanley M. Brooks’ Perfect Sisters (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Sandra and Beth Andersen try to look out for their little half-brother as best they can, because their shared mother is a train wreck. She is an unemployable binge drinker with a nasty habit of getting involved with abusive men. The family typically spends a month or two in each new apartment, because that is how long it takes to order an eviction. The only exceptions are when Andersen latches onto a sketchy sugar daddy. She finds a real beaut when she takes up with a lawyer named Bowman.

Frankly, it hardly fazes the sisters anymore when he starts abusing their mother. Likewise, Beth the goth thinks she can handle it when he starts pressuring her for sex. However, when he starts hitting their brother, they reach their breaking point. Oddly though, it is their mother that they decide to kill, only partly because they are the beneficiaries on her life insurance policy. To plan the murder, they enlist the help of Beth’s boyfriend and Sandra’s social rival. They also solicit advice from the school via online chatrooms. Everyone is duly impressed when they follow through, but the stress does not wear well on Sandra.

Yes, crowd-sourcing your murder plans is just a fundamentally bad idea. In general, killing a parent is low percentage play. The Andersen sisters probably should have taken a more responsible course of action, like running away with the circus. Still, co-leads Abigail Breslin (from Ender’s Game) and Narnia’s Georgie Henley are fearlessly intense as the so-called “Bathtub Girls.” Indeed, it is truly quite compelling to watch Breslin’s Sandra Andersen become more and more like her problematic mother.

Frankly, Perfect Sisters kind of works when it strives for high tragedy, but it is rather flat as a true crime thriller. Unfortunately, it is far from a smooth ride. Brooks’ herky-jerky transitions and the sisters’ awkward flights of fantasy do not serve the narrative flow or instill a consistency of tone.

Brooks (the former California Film Commission Chair under Schwarzenegger) is a veteran producer of cable true crime programming, so it is surprising he did not punch up the lurid details. His restraint is admirable, but not necessarily fun to watch. The film has its merits (primarily the cast and the alarmingly credible portrayal of a soul-deadened generation), but it never comes together as a cohesive whole. Mostly just recommended for diehard fans of the youthful thesps, Perfect Sisters opens tomorrow (4/11) in New York at the AMC Empire.

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