Jennifer Love Hewitt as a former teen beauty who falls on hard times and is reduced to prostituting herself? (Too easy.) You betcha: last night, Lifetime's long-awaited mom-turns-hooker, based-on-a-true-story, made-for-TV The Client List premiered:
The Client List takes place in Texas. It is very important that you understand this and in case you don't, there are a lot of scenes in a honky-tonk and at one point Jennifer Love Hewitt wears cowboy boots. The town is packed with blustering, hypocritical southern preachers, bitchy women with big hair, and local characters who dispense home-brewed truths and carry on like the cast of a community-theatre Steel Magnolias. In case you feared Friday Night Lights had added too much realism and dimension to portrayals of small-town Texas life, don't worry: these fears were unfounded.
None of this is to say you should not watch it. You should, and immediately. (An assessment with which my boyfriend vehemently disagreed after the first 10 minutes.) Here's the deal: J.Love plays Samantha Horton, former beauty queen married to former star QB, Rex. They have three kids and are in love. Her mother (played, obviously, by Cybill Shepherd) is, of course, a beautician and is always around although it's unclear whether she actually lives with them. She is prone to exchanges like this one:
Mom: "How's the knee?"
Rex: "Doesn't work and keeps me up all night."
Mom: "Sounds like my second husband."
Anyway, things are tight for this one-time golden couple after they're both laid off and the bank forecloses on their home. And that's not how it was supposed to be! As Sam's friend tells her, "You're Samantha Horton. You're the prettiest girl this town has ever seen and you always get what you want." Later, her anguished husband moans, "Look how the football hero has fallen." And just in case you didn't get the picture, Sam later declares, "A girl this pretty's not supposed to be poor!" It's made very clear that Sam has long relied on her looks, and that her mother - as is the culture of the area - has always emphasized them. ("To Texas moms!" Sam and her friends toast.) Jennifer Love Hewitt, looking totally convincing as a former beauty-queen, has an accent that, for a native Texan, is oddly corn-pone.
Anyway. They're strapped. Sam, a licensed massage therapist, is desperate for work, and applies for a job at the Kind Touch Health Spa, run by another group of salty southern gals. But Samantha soon realizes the job is not what it seems!
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After she takes the plunge, Samantha, with her interest in her clients' lives and propensity for mothering them, soon becomes the spa's biggest earner and her family's main breadwinner. Naturally, everyone except her best friend thinks she's just giving massages.
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But, there's a dark side. Samantha is for some reason so exhausted by her job that she starts falling asleep at the wheel. When a client offers her coke, the former straight-arrow gets hooked. And then!
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In the third act, of course, they get busted. Sam and the gals are all arrested and her double-life is exposed. Samantha is devastated! As her wise best friend tells her - and anyone who was apparently asleep for the preceding hour and a half : "At first you did it to save your family. But then it was for you. You threw your life away for what's in your ears and around your neck." Due to her great memory, Sam is able to compile the eponymous Client List of prominent hypocrites, which results in a light sentence. But that's actually not that big a part of the story, because the rest of it is given over to tearful soul-baring: Sam bares her soul to her mother, to her best friend, and to her husband. She bares her soul to the women of the town. She bares her soul to her fellow hookers. Each time, she explains that she'd "always gotten by on her looks" but now knows better. (That vanity is seemingly conflated with prostitution is but one of the confusing things about this film.)
Does she pull it together? I'll give you two guesses. She ends up earning her living honestly, as a waitress, forswearing expensive luxuries, reconciling with her handsome young husband and even getting her mother to admit that she was too superficial and "I should have encouraged you to rely more on stuff like" life skills and strength of character. But then: a showdown! All the prissy wives of all the clients converge on Sam's house. She can guess what's coming: slut-shaming and righteous Bible-thumping fury.
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Hahaha, sisterhood! Because isn't that what it's really all about! Silly men, who just need to feel appreciated and mothered! Wise women, learning how to keep them! Oh, life is just so simple in TV-Texas, where your child always wins the spelling bee, your son scores a touchdown in his first flag-football game, and your impossibly handsome husband forgives you no-problem for a secret life of prostitution. While Jennifer Love Hewitt says making the film gave her a new understanding of sex workers, the film doesn't really address that issue one way or the other; the film seems to swing between Samantha's fatal flaw of Vanity being her undoing, and her being a woman forced into a position a lot of women are forced into. And while Samantha throws up after turning her first trick, the film also gives a pretty rosy picture of the brothel: all the men seem polite and well-behaved; they shower her with jewelry and money; the other sex workers are just a bunch of colorful southern dames having fun. Based on a true story? As always with Lifetime, let's remember to keep the emphasis on that last word.