While the premise wiggles with promise of sinful delights, one has to be reminded while watching “The Client List” that this is a Lifetime Movie, therefore more interested in the mommy blues than the beast with two backs. A story of hooking, drug abuse, and harsh Texas judgment, the film elects for a soft route of melodrama, using pleasant actors to communicate desperation, refusing salacious details to play right to the target demographic of sympathetic mothers and wives.
A mother of three and wife to an injured football hero, Samantha (Jennifer Love Hewitt) is struggling to makes ends meet in her tiny Texas town. Behind on the bills and facing limited employment prospects, Samantha takes a job as a masseuse, hoping the gig will provide a fresh start to her life. Horrified to learn the establishment is a front for prostitution, the frustrated mother elects to go with the flow, rechristened “Brandy” and sent off to please a procession of unsatisfied men. Using her gift of memory and beauty pageant charm to win over her clients, Samantha is soon rolling in dough, a fact that delights her, but also threatens her adored domestic life.
Based on a true events, “The Client List” isn’t so much about the struggle of one woman to support her family, but an entire time frame of woe, looking to manage Samantha’s troubles and the downfall of the massage parlor, soon beset by law enforcement officials after complaints from the churchgoing community. While the attention span of the film suffers in the second act, it’s interesting to see the picture take on something more substantial than a simple undertaking of humiliation. In fact, Suzanne Martin’s script has a generous finger-snap timing about it, covering Samantha’s initiation into the ways of prostitution with a pronounced Texas swagger and sense of humor, refusing the innate horror to display the character’s natural gifts with men and lust for money.
Again, “The Client List” was created for Lifetime, and while the film keeps Hewitt in various articles of lingerie and cleavage-boosting outfits (staying true to the big hair, big-breasted Texas way), the primary goal of the film is to explore the despondency of a mother facing financial ruin. Talk of toxic mortgages, gas-guzzling automobiles, and orthodontic payments provide the motivation for Samantha, an organic push that’s sensibly handled by director Eric Laneuville. The movie is more interested in the character’s nurturing instinct with her clients, highlighting her bedroom ease and personal touch that keeps the johns coming back for more. There’s no unnerving sense of violation here, as Samantha takes to hooking rather easily, becoming the parlor’s top girl and the town’s best-kept secret. Perhaps it’s not the most realistic portrayal of seedy strip-mall prostitute antics, but the script’s clever enough to include a reference to “Pretty Woman,” thus setting the tone for the backroom encounters.
Expectedly, the grind finds a way to break Samantha, moving “The Client List” to more familiar arenas of domestic discord, while tracking a bizarre subplot that finds the character becoming addicted to cocaine to keep up with the pace of her life (not the more traditional route of self-medication). The turns of the script grow labored as the film moves along, taking on too much trauma for an 85-minute movie. Thankfully, Hewitt provides a superior star turn, handling the role with welcome pluck before the eventual slide into tears. Putting her natural charm and physical appeal to proper use, Hewitt helps the viewer understand Samantha’s decisions and her frustration with a life that once seemed so perfect. The actress takes a potentially distasteful role and gives it startling insight, working the strains of financial burden and wifely panic before the script hastily moves on. It’s a terrific performance that knowingly gives in to trashy elements while attempting to solidify an emotional core. Hewitt’s also backed up well by the supporting cast (including Cybil Shepard as Samantha’s sassy mother), who bring a healthy serving of Texas grace to the screen.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation works a very soft focus befitting a basic cable movie. The film looks clean and inviting, with some colorful life provided by costumes and outdoor atmosphere. Skintones looks natural, while black levels are comfortable, if not always stable due to the hazy look of the film.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix keeps to a frontal pace, with dialogue exchanges held comfortably by the track, allowing for exposition and tearful emotion to be cleanly understood. Soundtrack selections offer some energy to the surrounds, though it’s an infrequent event. Crowd and bar atmospherics are handled nicely, but hardly remarkable.
English and English SDH subtitles are offered.
The third act brings legal affairs and crippling rumor into the film, showing consequence in the mildest manner possible. “The Client List” isn’t much for punishment, choosing to celebrate Samantha as a flawed woman of means, surrounded by a sea of idiot men and social pressure. It’s an entertaining film, but fluff. Thankfully, the picture is fully aware of its limitations.