The designation of Lifetime Original Movies is possibly single-handedly responsible for the ghettoization of the woman’s picture. The woman’s picture is now seen as the LIFETIME picture, especially if it has a focus on a single female and her struggling with her emotions. The problem with this label is that it doesn’t allow for the complexities of a woman’s turmoil to enter into the mainstream without being ridiculed out of the theater.
Kelly & Cal is ripe for the label Lifetime Original Movie, and will probably be screening on that channel in the future. Kelly, played by the ever-talented Juliette Lewis, is a new mother whose husband, Josh (Josh Hopkins), works late as an advertising executive. She has recently been transplanted from the big city, where she was a riot grrrl, to a big bolshy suburb so they could be closer to her husband’s seemingly-Stepford-esque family. Depressed and lost, especially without Josh to emotionally support her, she befriends local teenage pervert and new paraplegic Cal, who has been spying on her breastfeeding in her window.
Writer Amy Lowe Starbin and director Jen McGowan developed the characters so that they would echo each other’s problems. Kelly recently lost her identity through marriage and motherhood. Cal lost his identity through a car accident. Josh and Cal were both artists; Josh went commercial while Cal lost his fine motor skills. Kelly and Josh both have fundamental deep issues with how they see each other and their position within each other’s lives. These constant echoes of themes and replications of issues raise Kelly & Cal from just being another Lifetime Original Movie.
My biggest nitpicky problem with Kelly & Cal was that I couldn’t tell if they lived next door to each other or blocks away. Most of the time, they seem to live next door, but the houses don’t seem like they even belong in the same neighborhood. This wouldn’t be a problem if not for the spying that provides the third act momentum.
Additionally, Kelly & Cal never really addresses the central skeeviness at the heart of this film. Cal is a perv, and his first come-on to Kelly is “Nice tits.” Because somebody is looking at new mom Kelly in a sexual way, she’s attracted to the perverted energy even if she denies that is what she wants. The perversity of an older woman with a younger man is only addressed in the inappropriateness in passing. The question that looms over the film is whether emotional cheating is the same as physical cheating, and the answer seems to be in the affirmative. Kelly lies and carries on like she’s having a big affair, even though they never do consummate their relationship.
In the end, Kelly & Cal is a fine actor’s showcase for both Juliette Lewis and Jonny Weston, despite Jonny Weston’s miscasting because he’s too old for the part (having a 26 year old play as an 18 year old really takes the edge off the molesty vibe the movie ought to have). The search for identity, the echoing of themes, and a screenplay that usually eschews cheap sentimental pabulum for Gen X detachment, cause Kelly & Cal to be better than its subject matter would usually be.
As a side note that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the review, Weston was hired because he and Lewis have an electric chemistry that translates well on screen. But, I wonder if McGowan couldn’t have found an actual paraplegic actor who could have played the part just as well. It’s just a curiosity that ties in to the theme of casting people who are part of the mainstream to play people who aren’t.