‘A Deadly Adoption’: 10 Things Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig’s Lifetime Movie Got Right
Let’s make this clear: A Deadly Adoption is not a spoof of a Lifetime movie, at least not in the way you’re thinking. It’s not obviously satirical, either, especially if you aren’t familiar with the Lifetime movie formula, like those of us blessed enough to grow up on a steady diet of Lifetime movies in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Instead, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig‘s new TV movie (kept secret for months, with Ferrell even outright denying its existence) is more of an homage, honoring the classic Lifetime movie tropes — it’s as if they’re filling out a MadLib.
Ferrell and Wiig get nearly every element of A Deadly Adoption right, from the melodrama to the awkward pauses and glances shared between characters, the middle-class trashy plot that will have your sense memory evoking the smell of your mom’s boxed wine, and especially the tone. What makes A Deadly Adoption work — what makes it so delightful to watch — is that Ferrell and Wiig play it 99 percent straight the entire time. Here, I’ve collected the 10 things A Deadly Adoption gets right about being a Lifetime movie.
1. The Characters
Meet our generic, white, everything-is-perfect-on-the-outside family: Sarah (Wiig), a wife and mother who runs her own organic baked goods business; Robert (Ferrell), her husband and the renowned author of a series of books on an absurd topic (avoiding debt); and Sully, their daughter, who has been given a name we’re supposed to think is way ahead of its time. Like, who names a little girl Sully? These perfect parents do because it indicates advanced thinking on their part.
2. The Tragedy
Every Lifetime movie has at least one secret tragedy from the past. The films typically start off with a flashback to this “inciting incident,” which usually results in a move to a new town, a new school, a new job, or getting a new hair cut. Or all of the above. A Deadly Adoption opens with baby Sully’s first birthday party, with a pregnant Sarah taunting Robert about going for a ride on their rusty old boat. The dock yields and Sarah falls into the water — the entire scene is played in an unwavering straightforward manner, while the concept itself is as ridiculous as, well, a Lifetime movie.
A grown woman with a child fell in the water and almost drowned? Wiig just plops right in to the water and disappears, and neither she nor Ferrell need to make a big, goofy production out of it because the idea is just so inherently silly.
Like most Lifetime movies, this tragedy leads to more tragedy: Sarah can’t have any more babies. What are they going to do?
3. The Incredibly Stupid Logic
Robert has struggled with alcoholism and become an overbearing safety-obsessed father who is constantly distracted, and no matter what Sarah does — no matter how gentle, reassuring and supportive she is — Robert is slowly getting worse.
You know what will fix everything? Another baby to make up for the one they lost. If Robert just had a new baby around, he’d be miraculously cured of his weird personality issues — he totally wouldn’t become even more obsessive compulsive about safety with a delicate, defenseless baby around. No way.
4. The Drama
Meet our drama! Every Lifetime movie has an agent (or agents) of MAJOR DRAMA who arrives at the perfect time to make things more difficult for people who have already suffered enough. Bridgette (Jessica Lowndes) is a young woman with an unwanted pregnancy who just so happens to be as overprotective and debt-fearing as Robert. With her cute little dresses and her humble story about living in a homeless shelter, not only is she the perfect candidate to give the family her baby, but she should totally move into their house even though they do not know her at all.
Obviously, she has ulterior motives.
5. The Melodrama
Ferrell and Wiig (and everyone else, for that matter) are playing it entirely straight, and that’s for good reason: a Lifetime movie is melodramatic and over the top enough that it doesn’t need any additional help. Taking it seriously is the absolute best approach, which makes A Deadly Adoption 10 times funnier than if they exaggerated their performances.
Every time Robert and Bridgette interact with one another, they do so with loaded pauses. Scenes end with serious, lingering glances that feel awkward, as if they’re trying to tell us something we don’t already know. Why is Bridgette drinking so much coffee if she’s “pregnant”? How is no one seeing this?! Isn’t she obviously flirting with Robert?
She takes the training wheels off of Sully’s bike and it’s literally an accident waiting to happen. Amazing.
6. The Crappy Boyfriend
Bridgette’s boyfriend, Dwayne Tisdale (Jake Weary), has the perfect white trash Lifetime movie name, but more than that, he has the perfect Lifetime movie bad boy look — like Brian Austin Green, who starred in a few Lifetime movies back in the ‘90s. And like those boyfriends, he’s controlling and manipulative and kind of stupid. Whoever cast this guy deserves a raise.
7. The You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me Part
Sully walks in on Bridgette as she’s preparing to take a shower, notices her fake pregnant belly, and instead of a reasonable lie like, I don’t know, it’s a special pad to protect her fragile pregnant tummy, Bridgette (IF THAT’S HER REAL NAME; it’s not) says some women have bigger pregnant bellies, but she has a small one, so she had to wear a fake one to make Robert and Sarah believe it.
And then there’s the a-ha moment, when Robert finds a copy of one of his books in Bridgette’s room, signed to a girl named Joanie. Who’s Joanie? Robert had a one night stand with her during his heavy-drinking phase, which is why he stopped drinking. Six months ago. You do the math.
That autograph is all it takes for Robert to remember he slept with the pregnant woman who’s been living in his house. Not her face or anything. An autograph.
8. The Deadly Part
Obviously Bridgette snaps — she kidnaps Sully and takes her to a cabin with her white trash boyfriend. And all that incredibly overt stuff about Sully’s diabetes and how she can’t have candy begins to pay off, as Bridgette and Dwayne have no clue what to do with the sick kid, so they give her candy. Of course.
9. The Climax
In true Lifetime movie fashion, the climax is exceptionally nuts and totally unbelievable. “Bridgette” pokes a laughably huge gun under Sarah’s chin before leaving her in a car in the garage with the motor running to make it look like a suicide. She shoots Robert and takes off with Sully again, only to be confronted by her would-be new husband on a bridge. They force Sully to choose between them, which is when the totally WTF moment happens: Sully runs and jumps off the bridge and into the lake, forcing Robert to confront his greatest fears and leap in after her. How is it that six-year-old Sully knows how to swim and her mom doesn’t? This is downright absurd.
As previously mentioned, Lifetime movies have that “conveniently timed” approach — the right person shows up at the right time, the wrong person shows up at the wrong time, etc. So of course just as “Bridgette” fires her gun at Robert one last time, Sarah shoots her from behind with that comically large gun. And then we get our mom hero shot:
There is a woman who is not going to be put down or have her family threatened. There is a woman who has just fought her own personal war and taken matters into her own hands to end it. She’s the last person you’d expect to shoot someone, which makes this moment a triumph for women everywhere. Or something.
10. The Perfect Ending
Bridgette is gone, and thanks to the hell they’ve just endured, the family bond is stronger than ever. And hey, they don’t need a baby to fix this marriage. Everything is going to be fine because they’re white and they have money and they have a nice house and they’re dancing in the kitchen — they may as well be worshiping at the altar of Nancy Meyers right now.