“Confused” is a word that’s thrown around a lot in Lifetime’s new TV movie An Unexpected Love.
Kate is confused about her sudden attraction to a woman, Kate’s ex-husband is confused about whether this latent attraction to women is the root of their marital problems, Kate’s teenage daughter is confused about everything, and Mac’s friend (Margo Martindale) is concerned that Mac is falling for a “confused, straight mother of two.”
“Confused” is also the word that best describes An Unexpected Love — it can’t decide what it’s really about.
Is it a love story? Is it a movie about a divorced woman struggling to survive on her own after years of relying on her husband? Or a thirty-something woman discovering she’s bisexual or lesbian, with all the implications that go along with it? Is it about a mother coming out to her children and subsequently facing a custody battle? Or is it a story of a daughter finally standing up to her tyrannical mother?
Unfortunately, An Unexpected Love tries to be all of those things at once, and consequently isn’t very good at any of them.
The movie — which premiered on Lifetime on March 24, 2003 and was previously known as This Much I Know — tells the story of Kate Mayer (Leslie Hope), a newly-separated mother of two who gets a job at a small real estate office as a secretary, studies to become a real estate agent, and subsequently falls in love with her new boss, Mac (Wendy Crewson).
That’s the first hour. The second hour is a series of coming-out scenes: first, Kate comes out to her best friend (who reacts negatively), then her ex-husband (who threatens to take the kids away from her), then her teenage daughter (who reacts negatively), then finally, her mother (who refuses to see her again).
All of this when she’s only been “dating” Mac for a few days and doesn’t really have a clue about the future of their relationship.
Everyone in her life comes around by the end, of course — this is a TV movie — with lots of conversations about tolerance and loving someone whose gay even if you don’t understand it, and a lesson in how being gay in such a homophobic society means “you get to disappoint a lot of people.”
An Unexpected Love is consistent in many ways with The Truth About Jane (Lifetime) and A Girl Thing (Showtime), the other lesbian-themed TV movies written and directed by Lee Rose. All three of these films firmly communicate the essentialist position that homosexuality isn’t a choice, that the only choice is whether to act on those feelings.
Like teenage lesbian Jane’s mantra “I’m the person I was always meant to be” in The Truth About Jane, the refrain that people are “born gay” is echoed repeatedly in An Unexpected Love. And similar to Lauren in A Girl Thing, Kate discovers her attraction to women later in life and belongs to the “I love the person, not the gender” camp.
But while both of those films were anchored firmly in one primary relationship (Jane’s with her mother in A Truth About Jane and Lauren’s with her therapist in A Girl Thing), there is no strong relationship at the heart of An Unexpected Love — just a lot of underdeveloped ones.