Bethenny Frankel Deserves to Be the New Lifetime Movie Queen


The ability to fake cry is a tried-and-true ability that any person must be armed with to make it onto reality television. It’s an essential tool to have in your arsenal, critical for when accusations start flying about pretend asthma or not being a girl’s girl. Crocodile tears are a defense mechanism so dutifully employed that, when another Housewife calls them out, it’s a fourth wall-breaking shocker. Real Housewives of New York alum Bethenny Frankel even memorably blasted her former co-star Ramona Singer for pulling her tearful act in Season 9, responding to Singer’s hysterics by plainly telling her, “The waterworks are not of interest to me.”

How ironic, then, that Frankel spent much of her time on reality television policing other people’s faux-motional reactions, but couldn’t manage to conjure a tear of her own in her new Lifetime original movie, Danger in the Dorm. In the film—which premiered June 16 on the go-to network for films like Yoga Teacher Killer, Gaslit by My Husband, and Living with My Mother’s Killer—Frankel plays Joanne, the mother of headstrong college freshman Kathleen (Clara Alexandrova), whose move to her university’s dorm quickly turns deadly. When Kathleen’s best friend is murdered, Joanna jumps into action, demanding that her daughter unenroll from school. But Kathleen is reluctant to leave, vowing to stay and protect the other girls on campus until the killer is apprehended.

When the discord between mother and daughter starts brewing, Frankel arrives on set ready to do the work. It’s as if she showed up with the same prickliness as she did the RHONY trip where she had an emotional meltdown/breakthrough that nearly ended in a cardiac event. Frankel is far less convincing in scenes where she has to show emotions other than stridency, anger, and fear. But, surprisingly, Frankel’s talent holds down this modest little piece of cable camp. Alright, maybe she can’t cry on cue. But although her tear ducts may have dried up, Frankel’s talent and appeal have not.

Bethenny Frankel and Clara Alexandrova in Danger in the Dorm.

Bethenny Frankel and Clara Alexandrova in Danger in the Dorm.


That’s a bold statement, seeing as Frankel has spent the last year building up her following as a beauty influencer on TikTok by creating some of the most jarring and uninviting videos that any digital creator has ever made. (A manic supercut set to pop-folk singer Ethel Cain’s devilish song “Ptolemaea” is perhaps my favorite piece of media to debut in the last year.) Despite that, when she’s on screen in Danger in the Dorm, she boasts the same preternatural likability that she had even in the early days of RHONY. Because I’ve seen her seasons of that show—plus its spinoffs Bethenny Getting Married? and Bethenny Ever After—multiple times, I know being a mom was always Frankel’s dream role. And now that her real-life daughter Bryn is in her teenage years, Frankel seems to be channeling some parent-of-a-teenager anxieties into her dialogue as Joanne.

Kathleen, however, is a ball of raging hormones and needlessly bitchy remarks toward the woman who gave birth to her. Maybe Kathleen is just resentful of the fact that her mom named her Kathleen (wouldn’t you be?), but the way this 18-year-old throws barbs at her mom is simply inexcusable. After Joanne spends a week alone in her dorm, Kathleen calls and leaves a message on her daughter’s answering machine—one of the small but glaring indications that this movie is set sometime between the years of 1996 and 2002, a bit of scene-setting never offered to the viewer at the top of the film. When Kathleen calls her mom back, she’s already got an attitude the second Joanne asks her about boys. “Really—didn’t we just do this?” Kathleen fires back at her mother.

And if it wasn’t enough to take a tone with the woman paying for her schooling, Kathleen readies another sniper. “I know how a night with a cute guy can turn into—” Joanne begins, before her insolent little brat of a daughter cuts her off. Kathleen finishes her mother’s sentence, suggesting, “A kid you never wanted?” Kathleen is lucky to have a mother so loving; this was the ’90s (again, I’m pretty sure!), and getting your wrist rapped with a wooden spoon was not exactly off the table. Throughout the film, Kathleen rebukes her mother’s love, and Joanne does nothing but love and push her daughter to be the best she can be. Frankel’s overacting occasionally confuses the narrative in this already haphazardly written story. I was convinced that Joanne was the killer simply because of how fervently she goes out of her way to tell her daughter that she’s “special” while trying to shut her away back in her childhood home. Frankel’s got shades of Piper Laurie in Carrie, and in the right horror director’s hands, that intensity could have gangbuster’s success.

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But this is Lifetime. Hamming it up is the name of the game. And when the blood starts spilling en masse at Kathleen’s school, Joanne has had enough of her daughter’s rejection. In the film’s masterful centerpiece scene, Kathleen and Joanne sit down for a conversation where Joanne lays down the law, and Frankel gets some solid new material for her audition reel. (Kidding, she’s totally offer-only.) “You are so eager to prove that you are not afraid, that you can do this alone, that you don’t need anyone,” Joanne begins. “It is so honorable that you want to take care of all your friends. Women are at a disadvantage: physically, biologically, culturally. You can’t change that—you don’t have to. You’re tougher, you’re smarter, you have to be. It’s how we survive.”

The monologue could be straight out of The Big Shot with Bethenny, the terrifying, short-lived reality competition show where she bullied prospective new employees. But for Frankel, it comes from the heart. She’s spent her career talking about how she got a leg up in industries where women are at a disadvantage, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Frankel threw in a few ad-libs or got her paws on the script before shooting began. As familiar as the material might be for her, Frankel excels at delivering it. She’s got a strong presence that makes her an asset to this movie, lifting it just about the other slices of schlock that appear on Lifetime on the regular. (But only by a margin as thin as a Skinnygirl.)

Yet all that remains missing are the tears. No visible droplets fall from Frankel’s ducts in any of these scenes—I got up close to my television to make sure. Another particularly emotional moment caused my boyfriend to chime in, commenting, “We are seeing great work from Ms. Frankel,” only to add a moment later, “...If only she could make herself cry.” Does Lifetime not have the budget to add tears into the movie in post? I know these things are cobbled together on $800, an order of freshly boiled bagels, and a dream, but you’re telling me that no one on that set composed of aspiring actors, ready to jump in at a moment’s notice, had a tear stick handy?

You know what? Oh, well. So Frankel is unable to cry on cue. It might make her a Real Housewives anomaly, but that’s what she’s always been. From the moment she first appeared on our screens in 2007, Frankel was more genuine than any of her other cohorts. That relatability and tell-it-like-it-is attitude turned her into a fan favorite, sent people flocking to her businesses, and made her a multimillionaire. While she might’ve taken some hard left turns along the way, Danger in the Dorm could be a new chapter for Frankel. I’d like to see what she could do with more screen time as a cable movie staple. There’s a future here, if only the fates will let us have it. Please, God, if you’re listening: Call Candace Cameron Bure to some religious mission far away, and give her success to Bethenny Frankel!

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