Review: ‘Sno Babies,’ starring Katie Kelly, Paola Andino, Michael Lombardi and Shannan Wilson

October 26, 2020

by Carla Hay

Katie Kelly and Paola Andino in “Sno Babies” (Photo courtesy of Better Noise Films)

“Sno Babies” 

Directed by Bridget Smith

Culture Representation: Taking place in Philadelphia, the drama “Sno Babies” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos, Asians and African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two teenage girls in high school get addicted to heroin and hide their addictions from their families.

Culture Audience: “Sno Babies” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in seeing melodramatic, emotionally manipulative stories about drug addiction.

Katie Kelly and Paola Andino in “Sno Babies” (Photo courtesy of Better Noise Films)

The opioid crisis is a plague that affects millions of people, but there’s been a lot of media attention over how the crisis is affecting middle-class and upper-middle-class families in America. It doesn’t mean that one class of people will be more likely to become addicts, because addiction doesn’t discriminate. The media attention on “privileged people” who become addicts is because society is more likely to pay attention to a problem if it’s not considered a “ghetto problem.”

Unfortunately, the dramatic film “Sno Babies” barely explores the socioeconomic disparities in how access to treatment for drug addiction, particularly among teenagers, can largely depend on someone’s socioeconomic status. Instead, the movie skips right to cringeworthy melodrama about “good girls gone bad” (which has been done before in countless other films) and throws in an unnecessary and distracting subplot about a couple having trouble conceiving a child.

This infertility subplot and some extremely manipulative screenplay red herrings end up ruining what could have been a well-made cautionary tale. The movie takes a very serious subject (drug addiction) and turns it into an appallingly bad soap opera involving a wild coyote on the loose (yes, you read that right) in a storyline that really goes off the rails in the last third of the movie. Directed by Bridget Smith (in her feature-film debut) and written by Mike Walsh, “Sno Babies” even has an irritatingly cutesy title, since it refers to the nickname that someone gives the teenage girls who get hooked on heroin.

In “Sno Babies,” which takes place in Philadelphia, students Kristen McCusker (played by Katie Kelly) and Hannah Breem (played by Paola Andino) are best friends who attend a Catholic high school which has the type of tuition and academic reputation that make it an elite prep school. In the movie’s opening scene, Kristen is given an OxyContin pill by a fellow student whom she has a crush on named Brandon (played by Matthew Courson), who describes OxyContin this way: “It makes all of your worries and your problems disappear.” When Kristen takes the pill, Brandon says, “Okay, you’re not so boring after all.”

Fifteen months later, Kristen and Hannah are on a school bus, talking and laughing with some other friends. They all seem to be typical junior-class and senior-class students who are planning their futures. Kristen wants to go to Princeton University, while Hannah has her sights set on Penn State University because Hannah’s boyfriend Jeff (played by Niko Terho) plans to go there. Kristen is fairly confident that she’ll get into Princeton. Hannah, who isn’t the brightest person in this group, thinks that Princeton is in Pennsylvania, until she’s told in this conversation that Princeton is actually in New Jersey.

One night, Kristen and Hannah go to a big house party, and only teenagers seem to be there. Jeff greets them by showing them a packet of heroin and says, “Forecast is snow for the snow babies.” Before they go in another room to do the heroin, Hannah and Kristen see another student named Brianna (played by Gianna Gagliardi) nodding off in another room. Brianna is so high that she can barely stand.

In a disgusted tone of voice, Hannah comments to Kristen that Brianna comes from a trashy family because Brianna’s sister got pregnant at age 15 and dropped out of school. It’s also clear that Hannah thinks Brianna is a pathetic junkie. And yet, just minutes later, Hannah is showing Kristen how to shoot heroin in her tongue.

Kristen has been shooting heroin between her toes for a while, and the skin has started to become abscessed. Hannah tells Kristen that injecting heroin in the tongue will give her a better high. The movie never shows Kristen’s downward spiral in that 15-month period from when she took an OxyContin pill for the first time to becoming a full-blown heroin addict. Kristen and Hannah are still “functioning” drug addicts who outwardly look healthy, but they’re about to sink even further into drug addiction and desperate situations.

The first time that Kristen gets heroin injected in her tongue results in Kristen going into a state of being that’s almost catatonic, as she lies down on a bed to ride out the high. Hannah leaves Kristen to go somewhere with Jeff in another part of the house. And then Kristen gets some uninvited company in the bedroom: Brandon sneaks into the room, and he sees that Kristen is lying on the bed and is too intoxicated to move in a normal way. And then, Brandon rapes her. Kristen protests and tries to fight him off, but she’s too incapacitated to have much physical strength to get Brandon to stop.

Kristen doesn’t tell anyone that she’s been raped. She tries to act normal around her family, but her addiction has taken over her life, and she hides her addiction from everyone except for her druggie friends. Kristen’s parents Clare (played by Shannan Wilson) and Bill (played by Ken Arnold) are loving and supportive, but their jobs keep them very busy and out of the house a lot. Bill is a corporate businessman, while Clare is a real-estate agent who’s being considered for a big promotion.

Kristen’s only sibling is her younger sister Maddie (played by Abbey Hafer), who’s about 9 or 10 years old. Maddie, who calls Kristen the nickname Kiki, sometimes has nightmares, and she comes into Kristen’s bedroom so Kristen can comfort her and help her go back to sleep. This nighttime ritual between Maddie and Kristen is shown several times in the movie, as a way to demonstrate their sisterly bond. But as Kristen’s addiction gets worse, Kristen becomes less emotionally available to Maddie, until Kristen literally won’t let Maddie into her room anymore.

Aside from Hannah, the person whom Kristen confides in the most is Kristen’s former babysitter Valerie (played by Meryl Jones Williams), who is in her 30s and pregnant when this story begins. Valerie is Kristen’s tutor, and Kristen ends up telling Valerie a lot of her secrets and asking for Valerie’s advice. Clare seems to be a caring parent, but she’s just too busy for Kristen. And later, when Clare makes mother-daughter time with Kristen because she senses that something is wrong, she tells Kristen that she will help her with anything that’s bothering her. However, Kristen denies that anything is wrong and says she just hasn’t been getting enough sleep because she’s stressed-out over school.

Hannah’s home life isn’t shown that much, but Hannah tells Kristen that she’s very unhappy that her stepmother Stacey (played by Kaylan Wetzel) is pregnant. Years ago, Hannah’s biological mother left Hannah and Hannah’s father Patrick (played by Rich Henkels), and it’s implied that Hannah’s mother has no contact with Patrick and Hannah. It’s an abandonment that Hannah doesn’t like to talk about, but it’s an obvious reason why she’s in a lot of emotional pain. It’s never mentioned what Hannah’s father does for a living, but he seems to be a very preoccupied businessman.

“Sno Babies” isn’t just about these two teenage drug addicts. There’s a parallel subplot about a married couple in their 30s named Matt (played by Michael Lombardi, who’s one of the producers of “Sno Babies”) and Anna (played by Jane Stiles), who want to start a family, but they’re having a hard time conceiving a child. Matt and his sister Mary (played by Molly Logan Chase) own a place called the Shiloh Nature Preserve, which they inherited from their father. Anna is a waitress at a local diner.

The Shiloh Nature Preserve is in deep financial trouble. According to Mary, it’s been “hemorrhaging money,” and she thinks they should sell the property, especially since they’ve gotten a very good offer to sell it. However, Matt is reluctant to sell the property because it was their father’s dying wish that they keep the property in the family.

These financial pressures weigh heavily on Matt, because Anna’s waitress salary is barely enough to help pay their bills. And yet, Anna tells Matt that she wants to try in vitro fertilization and suggests that they take out a loan of about $14,000 to pay for IVF treatments, even though there’s no guarantee that the treatments will work.

Matt wants Anna to be happy, but she doesn’t seem to understand that they can’t afford all the things that she wants. In addition to the IVF treatments, Anna wants them to buy a home and consider adoption if they can’t have a biological child together. And guess who’s the real-estate agent who shows this financially irresponsible couple the home they want to buy? Kristen’s mother Clare, of course.

All of these plans are way beyond the couple’s finances, but Matt isn’t completely honest with Anna about how much money he’s been losing on the nature preserve. Anna says she’ll work double shifts to help pay for the IVF treatments, which is a very naïve suggestion, because if she got pregnant and took maternity leave from her low-paying job, the loan for the IVF treatments would still need to be paid back. Most waitress jobs are part-time and therefore don’t cover maternity leave.

What does Matt and Anna’s marital drama have to do with the teenage drug addicts who are supposed to be the focus of the story? Kristen finds out that she’s pregnant from the rape, and the only person she tells is Valerie. Kristen wants an abortion, but because she’s under the age of 18, she can’t get an abortion in Pennsylvania without permission from one of her parents. And so, Kristen asks Valerie to pretend to be her mother to sign off on the abortion. Valerie wisely refuses.

The rest of the story shows Kristen and Hannah getting worse in their drug addiction. There are the predictable consequences (arrests, overdoses), but the movie keeps shoving the annoying storyline about Matt and Anna in viewers’ faces. Without giving away any spoiler information, it’s enough to say that Anna finds out that Kristen is pregnant. And so, Anna starts to believe that she can somehow get Kristen’s baby, in case Anna can’t get pregnant with her own child.

Anna gets very creepy with her obsession to have a baby, as she starts lurking around and being nosy about what’s going on in the McCusker household and what Kristen’s decision might be about the baby. Anna isn’t even sure if Kristen’s parents know that Kristen is pregnant, but that doesn’t stop Anna from assuming that Kristen will give up the baby for adoption to Anna and Matt. This is the kind of storyline that’s in tacky made-for-TV movies.

And it doesn’t help when this movie has a lot of corny dialogue. For example, when Matt finds out that Hannah is a heroin addict, he makes this comment later to Anna: “If you don’t believe in hell, then look into the eyes of a 16-year-old drug addict.”

There’s a scene toward the end of the film that shows the McCusker family in a very heavy emotional crisis, but for some reason Anna (who’s basically just a real-estate client to Clare) is in the room too during this intimate family moment. Anna being in this scene is very odd, and it makes no sense, because she’s not even a family friend. It’s such a poorly written scene that it makes you wonder what the filmmakers were thinking in letting this horrible script be made into a movie. And the parts of the movie involving the coyote are jaw-droppingly dumb and unnecessary.

“Sno Babies” is the first feature film from Better Noise Films, a company founded by longtime music manager Allen Kovac, who’s one of the producers of the movie. He manages Sixx:A.M., the hard rock band co-founded by Mötley Crüe bass player Nikki Sixx, who has been very open about sharing his story about his heroin addiction and recovery. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Sixx:A.M. has several songs on the “Sno Babies” soundtrack.

But “Sno Babies” has some of the worst sound mixing possible for this type of movie, because the soundtrack’s songs blare too loudly during important emotional scenes, thereby making these scenes look like they were meant for a music video instead of a serious dramatic film. This blatant shilling of the soundtrack, by making the movie’s soundtrack songs too overbearing in the film, ends up cheapening the movie’s overall message. It’s unclear how much pressure the “Sno Babies” director felt to make these awful choices in sound mixing because the person who owns the movie’s production company is also the manager of several artists on the soundtrack. But it’s an unfortunate creative decision that makes “Sno Babies” look amateurish.

However, the acting in the movie is average-to-commendable. Kelly is a particular standout as the very troubled Kristen, who goes through every range of emotions that someone can have in a movie like this. Andino has some effective moments too, but her Hannah character is secondary to Kristen.

There are many horrendous choices that Kristen makes that are meant to make “Sno Babies” viewers uncomfortable. Kelly’s impressive performance grounds the movie in a certain realism that unfortunately is overshadowed by the ridiculous plot twists in the last third of the film. You know it’s bad when a movie that’s supposed to be about the horrors of drug addiction makes a coyote the focus of the biggest dramatic turn in the story.

Better Noise Films released “Sno Babies” on digital and VOD on September 29, 2020.

Review: ‘The Thing About Harry,’ starring Jake Borelli and Niko Terho

February 14, 2020

by Carla Hay

Niko Terho and Jake Borelli in “The Thing About Harry” (Photo by Parrish Lewis/Freeform)

“The Thing About Harry”

Directed by Peter Paige

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Chicago with a predominantly white cast, the romantic comedy “The Thing About Harry” is about two young middle-class men (one who’s openly gay, and the other who’s openly pansexual) who were enemies in high school but start to fall in love with each other, even as they date other people.

Culture Clash: Because one of the men is a commitment-phobic playboy who dates men and women, it causes conflicts over whether or not he’s a suitable partner for the other guy, who wants a long-term, monogamous relationship.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to fans of romantic comedies who are open-minded enough to seeing diverse sexualities portrayed on screen.

Jake Borelli and Niko Terho in “The Thing About Harry” (Photo by Parrish Lewis/Freeform)

The romantic comedy “The Thing About Harry,” Freeform’s first Valentine’s Day-themed original movie, puts a queer spin on a story that is very much inspired by the 1989 classic Meg Ryan/Billy Crystal movie “When Harry Met Sally.” In “The Thing About Harry,” two male friends who are obviously sexually attracted to each other try to keep their relationship platonic because one of the pals thinks that falling in love with a good friend is a recipe for disaster. This made-for-TV movie isn’t going to win any Emmys, but it’s a hilarious and sometimes emotionally touching ride that should please fans of romantic comedies.

“The Thing About Harry,” which takes place in Chicago over an approximate five-year period, begins with smart but neurotic Sam Biselli (played by Jake Borelli) an openly gay college student cuddling in bed with his straight female best friend Anatsasia “Stasia” Hooper (played by Britt Barron), a purple-haired sassy free spirit who’s a major commitment-phobe when it comes to dating. While cuddling with Stasia, Sam gets a call from two friends he knew in high school—a straight couple named Chris and Kelly, who ask Sam to attend their engagement party in their mutual hometown of Liberty, Missouri.

Sam says yes, and he plans to road trip to the party in his car. Chris and Kelly then ask Sam to do them a big favor: Give a ride to their friend and former high-school classmate Harry Turpin (played by Niko Tero), who doesn’t have a car. Sam and Harry attend the same college, but they’re not exactly friends. Sam has been openly gay since high school, and popular athlete Harry used to bully him mercilessly because of Sam’s sexuality and because Sam was the type of nerdy kid in school who was a know-it-all teacher’s pet. Sam had the unflattering nickname “Suck-up Sammy” in high school, and Harry was one of the classmates who taunted him with that name.

As far as Sam is concerned, Harry is one of the last people he wants to be stuck with on a road trip, but Sam is such a nice guy that he can’t say no to Chris and Kelly, and he reluctantly agrees to give Sam a ride to the party. Stasia, who has been Sam’s best friend since they met on their first day of college, doesn’t mince words when she tells Sam what she thinks about his decision to spend time with Harry: “You, my friend, are a medical marvel. It’s a wonder you can stand with a spine like that.”

Sam is the type of person who’s a romantic at heart. He believes in monogamy and that a partner should be mindful of things such as a three-month anniversary. It’s one of the reasons why he’s no longer with his ex-boyfriend Malcolm, who cheated on him and definitely was not the type of person who would remember anniversaries. Sam and Malcolm started off as close friends, but as a result of the breakup, Sam has sworn off ever dating someone who’s starts off as a close friend.

When Sam arrives at the arranged meeting place on campus to pick up Harry for the road trip, Harry is almost a half-hour late. Their meeting is somewhat awkward because Sam is very mistrustful of Harry and extremely annoyed at Harry’s tardiness. Harry offers a flippant apology and rambles on that he’s been preoccupied with some of the people he’s been dating, and he’s broken up with his most recent girlfriend. Sam doesn’t seem too surprised, since Harry was a playboy in high school too.

Sam asks Harry if he remembers how much of a hard time he gave Sam in high school. Harry, like a lot of school bullies who’ve grown up, doesn’t remember being as harsh on Sam as Sam remembers it. But Sam reminds him how much Harry’s behavior was mean-spirited and hurtful. Harry is a little taken aback, but then Harry mentions that he has an ex-boyfriend, which leads to Harry telling Sam that he’s pansexual—someone who’s attracted to people of all sexualities and genders.

This time, it’s Sam’s turn to be surprised, since he thought that from the way Harry acted in high school, Harry must be heterosexual. Sam is so shocked that he nearly runs into a truck on the other side of the road. They have a minor car accident when the car swerves into an embankment and has to be towed away for repairs.

While they’re waiting for Sam’s car to fixed, Sam and Harry share a motel room, where Harry confesses to Sam that the reason why he bullied Sam was because he was envious that Sam was open about his sexuality. Harry hadn’t come out with his true sexuality back then, and he said that if he acted nice toward Sam in high school, people would think he was queer “by association.”

After Harry’s confession, the two men open up to each other a little more by talking about their favorite things and their life goals. Sam is surprised to learn that despite Harry’s playboy ways and “macho jock” image, he has a sweet and sensitive side: Harry tells Sam that his favorite movie is “Up” and that his biggest life goal is to become a father. By contrast, Sam says he’s not sure if he wants to bring kids into this world. Later, Harry gives a sincere apology to Sam for being a bully to him in high school.

With Sam’s car back in commission, they continue on the road trip, but Harry ends up ditching him in the middle of the trip to meet up with his most recent ex-girlfriend because they’ve decided to get back together. The engagement party isn’t shown in the movie, but another party is shown that’s a turning point in Sam and Harry’s relationship.

Back in Chicago, not long after the engagement party, Sam and Stasia go to a singles-only Valentine’s Day party. And, of course, Harry happens to be there too. At the party, Harry is wearing an outfit that looks like he just came from a 1992 Kris Kross video: overalls with one of the arm straps unbuttoned. Despite this fashion faux pas, Harry is still the best-looking guy at the party and there’s still a spark of mutual attraction between Sam and Harry.

But talk about bad timing: Harry tells Sam that he’s decided to try being celibate for a while. Sam doesn’t think Harry’s celibacy vow will last, but it makes him feel more comfortable with becoming friends with Harry. Stasia meets Harry for the first time at this party, and although she’s initially suspicious of him, she eventually accepts him when she sees that Sam has forgiven Harry and that they’ve decided to be friends.

The rest of the movie is a “will they or won’t they” guessing game on whether or not Sam and Harry will ever reveal their true feelings for each other while they date other people. “Queer Eye” co-star Karamo Brown has a memorable cameo as a pretentious art dealer named Paul, who dates Sam. In a genuinely funny scene where Sam and Paul join a group of friends at a local bar’s trivia night, Paul shows his true petty nature and Harry surprises everyone with how much trivia he knows. The message is clear: Harry’s not such a dumb jock after all.

Sam and Harry each have platonic male roommates who offer their advice and observations. Sam’s roommate is a middle-aged gay man named Casey (played by former “Queer as Folk” co-star Peter Paige, who directed this movie), who’s like a caring older brother to Sam. Harry’s roommate is a straight guy close to his age named Zack (played by Japhet Balaban), who frequently joins Harry, Sam and Stasia for their friend get-togethers.

Before and after he graduates from college, Sam shows an interest in progressive liberal politics, and he starts his career as a community organizer for a mayoral candidate. Meanwhile, Harry (who’s a marketing major) flounders around after college in low-paying entry-level jobs, such as a sales associate at a clothing store or selling phones at a kiosk.

One of the reasons why Sam is attracted to Harry is that he’s not just another pretty face. Harry is a lot smarter than people assume that he is (although he’s still not as smart as Sam), and he’s a fun and loyal friend. Harry also gets involved with issues that Sam cares deeply about, such as LGBTQ rights. When Sam and Harry go to a party after a Pride parade, something happens at the party that changes the course of their relationship.

“The Thing About Harry,” which was written by director Paige and Joshua Senter, has some unpredictable twists as well as some formulaic aspects to the story. The movie’s biggest appeal is in how realistically the characters are written and portrayed. The whip-smart dialogue of Sam, Stasia and Casey will remind viewers of people they know who can give sassy and sensible romance advice all day to friends, but their own love lives are kind of a mess. And because Harry is a very handsome and commitment-phobic playboy, he has that realistic mix of being charming and frustrating, which are common traits for people who know they have their pick of partners who are competing to fall in love with them.

If Sam and Harry are secretly in love with each other, what’s holding them back? Sam doesn’t want to get his heart broken by Harry, who doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to monogamy and long-term relationships. Harry doesn’t want to fall short of Sam’s high expectations when it comes to romance, and he probably feels that Sam deserves to have a partner who’s on a similar intellectual level.

Despite their differences, Sam and Harry are easy to root for in his love story. The whole point of this movie is to show that when it comes to love, there’s no explaining a lot of attractions. Instead of seeing if a potential love partner fits a list of requirements, many times it’s just best to just go with what feels right if it doesn’t hurt anyone and it makes you happy.

Freeform will premiere “The Thing About Harry” at 8 p.m. ET/PT on February 15, 2020.

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