Judge Lacey Worrell doesn't understand why some have criticized the title of this Lifetime television movie as shamelessly sensationalistic. After all, it isn't Hot Sex and the Naked Single Mom.
Get ready for steamy love scenes, dramatic family blowups, and a surprising finale!
Jess (Gail O'Grady, NYPD Blue) is the single mother of a 15-year-old girl, Sara, who is beginning to develop a curiosity about sex thanks to a great-looking guy on her school's soccer team. The problem is, Jess, five long years after being divorced, is experiencing a reawakening of her own sexuality, thanks to a sexy expert witness (Grant Show, Melrose Place) she is prepping for a trial. Alex is separated from his wife, and he and Jess begin an all-encompassing affair, which causes Sara to question her own mother's behavior. If it's not okay for Sara to have sex, why is it okay for her mom? Should a mother have to justify her own behavior to her child, or is it only a one-way street? When Jess and Alex come up against two major obstacles to their relationship, Jess is left to figure out how to deal with the consequences of her affair.
Although the first half of this movie contains a great deal of romance (and sex) between Jess and Alex, it is most assuredly a movie about the relationship between a mother and a daughter and the strain that is put on their relationship by the choices each makes in regard to her own sexuality. Jess is a good mother who cares about her child, but she has difficulty explaining the fine line between behavior that is acceptable for adults and acceptable behavior for teenagers. What is okay for one is not necessarily okay for the other, but try telling that to a teenager with above-average intelligence and raging hormones. The conflicts (read: shouting matches) between Jess and Sara are painfully realistic and well acted, and Danielle Panabaker (The Division) is perfectly cast as a girl who is coming of age but doesn't how to go about it. Sara faces her own choices, too, but she is rarely sure whether to follow her own instincts in order to spite Jess or to do the "right" thing and wait until she possesses more maturity to make some very adult decisions.
This movie was originally made for the Lifetime cable television network, and what keeps it from being just another estrogen-infused movie of the week is the excellent acting by both O'Grady and Show, who also possess amazing chemistry together. Show never got much of a chance to flex his acting muscle all those years he spent on Melrose Place, as his character, Jake, spent most of his time with his shirt off, tinkering on motorcycles. Unlike other actors who were at one time considered pretty boys and eye candy, Show has aged into a fantastic-looking man who can truly act. O'Grady, who is in just about every scene, carries this movie easily and lends some gravity and believability to the conflicts faced by her character.
The first half of this movie is truly engrossing, and viewers will find themselves rooting for Jess as she finally finds the love she is looking for. About 45 minutes into it, however, it loses all steam as a twist is introduced that throws all the characters off-balance; it never regains its footing after that. Sex and the Single Mom would have been completely acceptable as an exploration of Jess's attempt to juggle her burgeoning relationship with Alex with the already established relationship with her daughter. The monkey wrench that is thrown in feels like a contrivance, and the ending, although somewhat realistic, is unsatisfying and ends up feeling like a morality play.
Considering this was a television movie, fans will appreciate the lengthy cast and crew interviews that are included as a special feature. The only problem is, O'Grady, Show, and Panabaker are asked to go into so much analysis of their characters that it borders on the ludicrous. They are asked to explain the motivation and conflict of their characters, as if that isn't readily apparent by watching the film itself. There is an air of unnecessary seriousness about the interviews that is truly grating. It's a Lifetime movie, which is fine for 90 minutes of entertainment, but we're not talking award-show material here. Potential viewers should also be warned that the cast and crew interviews give away every single plot point in excruciating detail, so anyone who would like to be surprised as to the developments in the characters' lives should wait until after watching the movie to view the interviews.
O'Grady continues to do terrific work as a conflicted Catholic housewife on NBC's period drama, American Dreams, while Show can be seen on Fox's Point Pleasant. A sequel to Sex and the Single Mom, appropriately titled More Sex and the Single Mom aired on Lifetime in early 2005.
Sex and the Single Mom is quite entertaining, well acted, and well made, save for certain unnecessary plot developments. Parents, single or not, will most definitely relate to the challenges of Jess's character as she struggles to create boundaries for a precocious teenager who wants nothing more than her freedom.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "A Look at Sex and the Single Mom" with Cast and Crew
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