Review: Double Standard (1988)
Lawyer Larry Harik is married to devoted wife Joan, but has an affair with dewey babysitter Virginia. Their illicit boinking results in Virginia getting pregnant and giving birth to a daughter, Sharon. Larry spills the beans to Joan about the affair and the baby, and convinces her to let him bring Sharon into their house and raise her along with their own kids. Joan buys into the idea and Larry - evidently feeling all happy and guilt-free after his confession - keeps on doing the nasty with Virginia. Things are going great until Virginia decides she wants Sharon back. Larry manages to talk Joan into giving Sharon up, but since he can't bear to see Sharon grow up without a dad he takes the bold step of getting an illegal second marriage to Virginia while staying married to unsuspecting Joan.
Thus Larry embarks on a double life which goes on without a hitch for about 15 years. He maintains his upscale life with family #1 while setting up family #2 in rather more white-trashy environs outside of town. He even finds time to get elected to a prominent judicial position on the circuit court and father six additional kids by Virginia. Sharon, who was the only person with the sense to question why her dad always left halfway through every holiday dinner, finally stumbles onto the truth. Joan finds out as well, and throws Larry out. Sharon gets drunk and when Larry is too ineffectual to take her keys, she plows her Wrangler into a tractor-trailer. The strain is beginning to show on ol' Larry, but a warm hug from his disabled son makes it all okay. Based on a true story.
Dear God, where do I even begin with this movie? This is a made-for-tv load of chum from the 80's which explores the darker side of bigamy, and when a plot is as confusing as this one, you know it must be based on real events.
One of the problems with the based-on-a-true-story film is illustrated here quite nicely. In most well-written dramas, characters' actions can be traced to underlying motives, emotions, thoughts, etc... Essentially, the audience knows by the end of the film why the characters did what they did through the course of the story. Real people are often more stupid than their fictional counterparts, and their inner lives can be pretty incoherent. This presents a challenge to the screenwriter of the b.o.a.t.s. film: you already know the plot, now bring to light the underlying stuff that will help your audience understand why things happened this way.
This kind of explanation is nowhere to be found in Double Standard. We really aren't given a single character who we can understand, let alone root for. Let's take a quick look at the three main players. Larry is either a master of deceit or a total moron. His behavior is reprehensible, yet he seems to honestly believe his decisions are morally sound. Joan, even after she knows she's been cheated on, is so in denial about it that she doesn't get suspicious when Larry takes off for all those "business meetings." Virginia knows what's going on but seems to have no problem with it. She generally just stands around looking beatific and saying things like "you know your father's job means he's gone a lot."
One of the most entertaining things in the movie is to see how they try to show the characters aging over time through the use of "make-up effects". For Larry this means progressively dumping bottles of Liquid Paper on his hair. Joan apparently comes from an alien world in which age is indicated by the amount of skin bronzer you use. By the end of the film she has taken on the hue of a peeled sweet potato. I don't think they even really tried with Virginia - they just sort of shortened her hair and gave her frumpier clothes.
I don't mean to sound unkind, but I feel like something needs to be said about the grotesque nature of the entire cast of this film. Despite the ready availability of thousands upon thousands of reasonably attractive actors, the makers of Double Standard chose to fill our television screens with some of the butt-ugliest individuals sporting the most unflattering hair, clothing, and makeup this side of Eraserhead. I offer the photo of the film's hero above as evidence. I don't expect perfection, I just want to be able to look at the characters without flinching.
Double Standard is like a fever dream - not only is the plot itself completely mind-boggling, but the story tends to lurch forward several years at a time, leaving you disoriented and slightly queasy. Or maybe it was Larry's perm that made me queasy, I'm not sure. This movie has it all - weird actors, bizarre story, cheap production - there's even a Culture Club song! Highly recommended.