From the opening montage, when a little girl dances with her father—a “Schmitz for President” sash slung around her little shoulders—through the ending credits, The Mary Kay LeTourneau Story:All-American Girl is steeped in dear old Dad. That he's the One True Love of Her Life is hammered over and over again in this surprisingly sympathetic retelling of the life of LeTourneau, the Seattle schoolteacher-turned-private-tutor-turned-child-molester. When she got knocked-up by that 13-year-old student—not once but twice?—The Mary Kay LeTourneau Story tells us she was merely yearning for Daddy, who had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. She was sad.
LeTourneau's story is special for us, of course, because Daddy was none other than John Schmitz, our own much-heralded loony-Right congressman out of Newport Beach. An unreconstructed John Bircher, Representative Schmitz's race-baiting and mean-spiritedness were matched only by his hypocrisy: his political career was derailed in the early '80s after it was revealed this Family Values guy loved families so much he had two of them.
But The Mary Kay LeTourneau Story is also special because we get to see lots of cool, X-Files-style captions reading, “Corona del Mar, California, 1972.” Don't you just love that?
Considering its source tale, The Mary Kay LeTourneau Story, airing Tuesday on USA, is surprisingly dignified and not too salacious. What's more, the storytelling is extremely effective psychologically; it may only be armchair psychology, but there's actual subtle foreshadowing, and it rings true. Penelope Ann Miller's performance as the rigid, lonely schoolteacher whose psychological development was arrested in the happy days of her youth—when Dad was king and sex ed was reason enough to yank the kids from school No. 8 to school No. 9—is seamless. You never condone her actions while watching the flick—hell, she's as crazy as they come—but you figure you understand her. She seems nice. And anyway, he pursued her.
After LeTourneau and her jailbait lover Vili Fualaau (played by 18-year-old Omar Anguiano—cuuute!) were already mad for each other—a courtship that seems to take years—she slept with him to secure the relationship, to please him. “He pursued me as a man pursues a woman,” she tells her prison shrink. “He has the dominant sexual urges. . . . I gave in to his needs.” The way the movie tells it, that's exactly what happened. And considering all the disparaging throwaway remarks by Schmitz about the Equal Rights Amendment (he rambles on about women's privileges, as opposed to the drab, unhappy lives of men, and then says, for the funny, funny kicker, “My wife told me to tell you that.” Hyuk! Hyuk!) and women's libbers already sprinkled through the film (but subtly), it is absolutely believable. Schmitz was her hero; his ideals were hers.
It's a sweet courtship, too. LeTourneau maintains her proper distance at first, but Vili (who looks not 13 but about 16—the better to placate our revulsion?) volunteers for every after-school assignment, every yearbook meeting. And eventually, he is drawing hearts on her wrist, spoon-feeding her from a pint of ice cream, calling her late at night while playing to her on his guitar, and sending her secret “I love you” codes on her pager, which she buys for just that purpose. There is no way for LeTourneau to escape his pull because she, unlike just about everyone I know, was happy when she was 12, and she gets to feel that way again.
Hell, life was good in Corona del Mar back in '72: dad (who in the movie looks oddly like Sonny Bono) was still golden. He was running for president on the American Independent Party ticket, the same campaign year Hunter S. Thompson immortalized George McGovern in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. Schmitz's second family hadn't yet been discovered. And LeTourneau hadn't yet had to marry a man she didn't love—forced into it by her Bircher parents because she'd managed to get herself knocked-up.
The movie doesn't skimp on scandal. There are touches of Schmitz's career-ending affair with his student at Santa Ana College—a student with whom he fathered two children. And years later, when LeTourneau's affair with Vili becomes public, her parents fly up to take over her Seattle household. LeTourneau's long-suffering but really quite evil mother looks at Schmitz and LeTourneau and says, acidly, “Well, aren't you two a pair.”
And the movie doesn't skimp on present scandal. While there are no shocking love scenes (though LeTourneau and Vili do make out), the fact that LeTourneau can't figure out that she's done anything wrong is hammered home through excellent prison shrink scenes. Her complete passivity and feelings of blamelessness are as repulsive to today's society—always ranting about taking responsibility—as anything else she does. After her sentence is suspended, she even manages to conceive a second child with her one true love. Daddy's girl just found another way to bond with her father.
The Mary Kay LeTourneau Story: All-American Girl airs on the USA Network. Tues., 8 p.m.