Lifetime movies have always had a flair for scandal, but fans will know even its craziest stories are sometimes rooted in truth. Across the last decade, the network has aired features based — at least loosely — on the lives of Marilyn Monroe (The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe), Elizabeth Taylor (Liz & Dick), and Amanda Knox (Amanda Knox: Murder On Trial In Italy), among several others. So, as Lifetime gears up to premiere its next big picture, you have to wonder: Is High School Lover a true story?
It doesn't seem to have any real-life inspiration, but it's certainly a familiar premise. The thriller stars Paulina Singer (Dead of Summer) as Kelly Winters, a 17-year-old girl who falls for Hollywood heartthrob Christian Booth (François Arnaud). He's much older than Kelly, and when her father (James Franco) finds out about their budding romance, he forbids the two from seeing each other. Of course, being a rebellious teen, she ignores her dad and continues to pursue the relationship, only to later realize that her beau's obsessive behavior has become dangerous — he goes to such extremes as showing up at her high school unannounced, bashing in windows, and breaking into her house.
That last half may be a little over-the-top — it wouldn't be Lifetime if it wasn't — but writers had plenty of material to draw from when it came to the older-man-meets-younger-woman dynamic. One of the most famous examples is Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation (2003), which starred Bill Murray as an aging actor who sparks up an unlikely friendship with a young, beautiful woman (Scarlett Johansson) during a trip to Tokyo. There's also Lone Scherfig's An Education (2009), a coming-of-age drama which is, in fact, based on a true story. In it, an English schoolgirl (Carey Mulligan) begins a relationship with a man twice her age (Peter Sarsgaard), but later finds out he's a married con man.
Perhaps the closest touchstones to High School Lover are Sam Mendes' American Beauty (1999) and Stanley Kubrick's Lolita (1962). Both films center around middle-aged men who become obsessively infatuated with younger women. In American Beauty, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a burnt out ad executive, becomes enamored with his daughter's friend, while in Lolita, a 40-something professor is so obsessed with a teen girl that he murders her eventual husband.
With few details beyond the general narrative, it's hard to say how High School Lover lines up with its similarly themed peers. Based on the trailer, it certainly looks more dangerous, and seems to offer more high-thrill action, too, so it's actually comforting that it isn't based on a true story. We'll have to wait until the movie airs at 8 p.m. on Feb. 4 to see if Kelly is able to defeat her violent antagonist in the end.