GEEKS: With her work at the art gallery she owns keeping her so busy, Kayla Anderson (Lindsey McKeon) finds herself fretting over her daughter Kerry's (Cathryn Dylan) upcoming 16th birthday--a milestone she wants to commemorate with a big Sweet 16 bash. Worrying that she won't be able to juggle her hectic work on top of planning Kerry's party, Kayla looks for a party planner to help out. She and Kerry ultimately decide on Lindy Shores (Katrina Begin), who quickly bonds with Kerry as she makes it her mission to give her the best Sweet 16 bash ever.
But as Kerry's birthday gets closer, Kayla begins to suspect something amiss with Lindy. Unbeknownst to both Kayla and Kerry, Lindy is a psychotic woman who's already left a few dead bodies in her wake--and isn't afraid of killing again if it means staying close to Kerry. Who will be left standing once Kerry blows out her candles?
With the recent Jake Helgren written-and-directed Lifetime films I've covered recently (Psycho Stripper, Killer Dream Home, and now this one), they all have something in common. All three have premises which, at their core, put a new coat of paint on one of Lifetime's most common plot threads, with that plot thread being a group of people (usually a family or a couple) having their lives turned upside down when they inadvertently attract the attention of a crazed stalker. Helgren's films, however, throw in a somewhat unique twist by having a special occasion attract the stalker to the protagonists.
In the case of Psycho Party Planner, that occasion is a teenage girl's Sweet 16, which attracts the attention of a woman obsessed with becoming a mother. Motherhood-obsessed villainesses are also far from new for Lifetime, leaving the film with the powerful feeling that nothing it does hasn't been done by Lifetime countless times before. Even the unique Sweet 16 angle is only briefly given center attention over the regular obsession thriller beats, and the film's big twist is something that can quickly be called in advanced by most viewers.
But even with a formula heavy plot, Psycho Party Planner retains the requisite requirement of any good Lifetime movie: being a fun-to-watch drama, which is accomplished with smooth pacing and a competent cast. Having previously appeared on my review plate as good-natured heroines in UPtv's Second Chance Christmas and Lifetime's My Sister's Deadly Secret, Katrina Begin proves similarly capable playing a psychotic villainess. For the most part, Begin strikes a stable balance between the two sides of Lindy Shores: the perky and attentive party planner, and the obsessive and dangerous psychopath. While there are moments when Lindy's instability becomes too visible when it shouldn't be and risks making Kerry look naive for not taking notice, Begin otherwise brings a charm to Lindy's bubbly personality, making it understandable why Kerry would be so taken with her and why everyone who does suspect something off about her is so quick to dismiss her as harmlessly odd.
Begin also does fairly well when it comes to Lindy's more bonkers moments, even though she doesn't go over-the-crazy like the Lifetime villainesses that have come before her. In fact, some of Lindy's crazier moments come with an air of desperation to them, bringing an understated sense of tragedy to Lindy's quest to remain a part of Kerry's life at any cost. Lindy's spirited personality also serves as a neat juxtaposition against the more grounded and slightly rigid Kayla, making it all the more understandable why Kerry bonds with Lindy so quickly. Those with a penchant for over-the-top Lifetime villains may be disappointed and Lindy Shores isn't a terribly memorable villainess when compared to the others in Lifetime's collection, but for what she brings to the table, Begin's performance makes Lindy a moderately entertaining villain to watch in action.
Protagonist Kayla Anderson, meanwhile, is similarly a mixed bag when it comes to quality. While Lindsey McKeon gives a fairly decent performance, Kayla is something of a blank slate protagonist with a few mildly unlikable moments (wanting to veto Kerry's vote for who plans her Sweet 16 party, her implied jealousy of Kerry and Lindy's bonding, etc). Kayla's husband Jason suffers a similar fate, as despite having a handful of effective moments and being played well by Marco Dapper, Jason spends so much of the movie as a static character that it's easy to forget he's even there. The final member of the Anderson family, however, is spared from this fate. Played strongly by Cathryn Dylan, barring a few awkward moments, Kerry Anderson is a sweet-natured and slightly adorkable teenager, and Dylan shares solid chemistry with Begin as Kerry and Lindy forge a friendship. SPOILER ALERT Kerry's best moment of the film, however, comes after she learns about having been adopted, with Dylan throwing herself into Kerry's justified anger at having been lied to her whole life. And thankfully, unlike Candice from Missing at 17, Kerry's anger doesn't go far enough to make her unlikable, as she eventually comes to understand Kayla and Jason's decision once she's calmed down. Spoilers Over
As for the supporting cast, Chasty Ballestros is charming as Kayla's genre savvy assistant Shonda, as is Jud Tylor as stern drill team coach Marlow Meadows. Though in Marlow's case, her subplot about her and Kayla's high school rivalry doesn't add up to much aside from Marlow's inexplicable transformation from stern grouch to friendly ally and a bit of character shilling directed at Kayla. In memorable minor roles, we have Parker Mack and Wyntergrace Williams as Kerry's sweet and somewhat-genre-savvy-in-their-own-rights friends Charlie and Savannah, Stefanie Black as snooty potential party planner Dulcie Lowe (though her snobbishness comes at the cost of making Kayla look bad for liking her), and Matthew Atkinson as Lindy's cold-hearted politician husband Griff.
Psycho Party Planner is far from a perfect film, with its formula-driven story and flat main character in Kayla leaving their impact. But when it comes right down to it, Psycho Party Planner succeeds at doing what any Lifetime movie should do: entertain a viewer for 90 minutes. And with a solidly wacky villainess, strong cast of actors, and smooth pacing that leads up to an intense final act, that goal is definitely accomplished. It may not be the "party of the century", as Lindy Shores would say, but Psycho Party Planner might make for a fun watch over a lazy weekend.
Score: 6.5 out of 10 ballerina snow globes.