16 August 2015 | mgconlan-1
They did it better in 1931!
The film was Lifetime's latest "world premiere," something called "Sugar Babies" (oddly, the IMDb.com entry on the film spelled the title as one word, "Sugarbabies," but the actual credit listed it as two so that's what I'm going with) about a Web site called sugarbabies.com to which nubile young female college students can subscribe so they can attract the attentions of older, wealthier men who will make an "arrangement" with them and pay them for "companionship" which may or may not — but, of course, usually does — include sex. If this sounds familiar, it's because Lifetime has already done this schtick at least twice before in 2015 alone — with "Babysitter's Black Book" and 'Sugar Daddies" (which Lifetime re-ran right after "Sugar Babies" just in case anyone in their audience missed the connection) — and all three of these movies couldn't help but remind me of how much better MGM did this story idea back in 1931 in the film "The Easiest Way," with Constance Bennett as the sugar baby, Adolphe Menjou as her sugar daddy, Robert Montgomery as the age-peer boyfriend who gets understandably upset when she finds out just how his girlfriend is making her living, and Clark Gable (in his first film as an MGM contractee) as the rather stuffy proletarian brother-in-law who leads her family in opposition to the Bennett character's lifestyle. What's more, the story wasn't exactly fresh and original even then; "The Easiest Way" had debuted as a stage play in 1909 and been filmed previously as a silent in 1917 — there's a reason prostitution is colloquially referred to as "the oldest profession."
It doesn't help that the actors available to MGM in 1931 were considerably better than those on board for a Lifetime producer in 2015 — Alyson Stoner (any relation to Brad Stoner, the local housepainter whose commercials on San Diego TV stations I find irresistibly amusing given what I would think a person named "Stoner" armed with a bunch of paint cans would be likely to do to your house!) as Katie Woods, the central sugar baby; Giles Panton as James Smith, her sugar daddy (and once again the casting directors, Don Carroll and Candice Elzinga, have erred by casting a young, attractive and genuinely hot actor in this role, somebody whom Katie might well have been attracted to even if he didn't have money and they hadn't met on a gold-diggers' Web site!); Keenan Tracey as Sean Clark, the age-peer rival for Katie's affections; and Hrothgar Mathews and Kerry Sandomirsky as her disapproving parents, who (unlike their counterparts in "The Easiest Way," who took a don't-ask, don't-tell attitude to all the goodies their daughter was lavishing on them courtesy of her sugar daddy) object to receiving any of the proceeds from her scummy lifestyle.
The plot gets so convoluted it's hard for me to remember which sugar baby was paired with which sugar daddy, but the basic intrigue revolves around Katie and her roommate Tessa Bouillette (Tiera Skovbye), who is going on a date with her own sugar daddy but he's bringing along a friend, so she wants Katie to go along and be the friend's date. Katie at first is reluctant — she's been cruised by Sean, a frat boy who's working his way through college by clerking at the campus bookstore — but when she goes to a party at Sean's frat house and he gets drunk and pukes on her legs, she calls Tessa on her cell phone and asks if the double date is still on. It is, even though in a black top and blue jeans (she's done the best she could to clean Sean's puke off of them) she's way underdressed for the fancy restaurant the two sugar daddies have picked for their date. The one thing "Sugar Babies" gets right is its vivid dramatization of just how totally the ability of the female characters to realize their dreams — one thing Tessa briefs Katie on early is the desire of the men who log onto sugarbabies.com for young women who have career goals of their own and aren't expecting to be supported by rich men all their lives — is dependent on their ability to attract men already in the 1 percent and "put out" for them.
Oddly, the most pathetic (in the good sense) character is the oldest and richest sugar daddy of all, Saul Williams (Ken Camroux-Taylor), a septuagenarian who's built and sold several companies and is sitting on a huge fortune with no one to share it with since his wife died of cancer three years previously — "It proved to me that there were some things money couldn't buy," he says ruefully in what's by far the best line of Becca Topol's and David DeCrane's script. It's not that "Sugar Babies" is a bad movie; it's just mediocre, with the Topol-DeCrane script given just the sort of functional but indifferent direction it deserves by Monika Mitchell.