Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret: TV Review
The Lifetime movie provides plenty of facts during its slow march toward the crime but is unable to capture the original interest and intrigue of the trial.
If there's anyone left in America who doesn't know the highs and lows of the Jodi Arias murder trial, Lifetime's original movie Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret is a fine roadmap of key events. For everyone else, it's a rote rehash that focuses mostly on the relationship between Arias and her ex-boyfriend (and eventual victim), Travis Alexander, from their first meeting, through the murder, the trial and first round of sentencing. (She is currently facing the death penalty after being found guilty.)
As the infamous lead, Tania Raymonde (Lost) does an exceptional job of naturally capturing Arias' peculiar, whispery, sing-song speech and depicts her mannerisms particularly well in the latter parts of the movie that cover what trial watchers will find most familiar. The doomed Alexander is flatteringly portrayed by Jesse Lee Soffer (The Mob Doctor), who does an admirable job as the motivational speaker who is repeatedly manipulated and seduced by, in the vernacular, "a Stage 5 Clinger."
The Arias of Dirty Little Secret is at times coy and charming and at other times obviously delusional and creepy, but her motivations are largely unexplored. She stalks Alexander to engineer their first meeting, and simultaneously dominates his life and alienates him from his friends. She manipulates him, mentally and sexually, until Alexander finally seems to wake up and soon finds another girlfriend. Arias' jealousy then allegedly propelled her to concoct a scheme to murder Alexander, which ended with him sustaining 27 stab wounds, a gunshot to the head and a near decapitation, all of which she documented on camera. (The footage survived despite an attempt by Arias to destroy it.)
Accuracy seems important to the production, and it succeeds there. For better or worse, it feels extremely toned down compared to some of the camp of Lifetime's other biographical movies. Productions like the recent Liz and Dick might be an opportunity to pour some wine, bring out the popcorn and enjoy the spectacle (or rip it to shreds). In Dirty Little Secret, the pendulum has swung too far the other way. The facts are there, but they are without adequate context, making the movie fine for catching a friend up with the main points of the trial, but it doesn't allow the movie to stand alone, nor does it offer any new dimensions to the story it's telling. Arias, for example, appears fully formed and without background. In two short scenes, she's shown interacting normally with her grandmother, but her troubled past is only alluded to quickly and vaguely.
The main issue is that the straightforward narrative doesn't capture the interest and intrigue of the trial itself, which hinged a great deal on Arias' denial of the events, her deception and her odd personality (though the movie does show scenes like when Arias stood on her head at the police station and later sang "O Holy Night" to herself). In Dirty Little Secret, there's nothing to figure out -- if you don't know the facts, there is a feeling something bad is going to happen, and then it does, and then it's basically over.
For those who know the story front to back already, Dirty Little Secret doesn't pepper the proceedings with any surprises, and it withholds comment on some of the more recent trial-time developments, like Arias' sudden sporting of bangs and oversized glasses (contrary to her former attention-grabbing style). Perhaps the production should have waited for a little hindsight. But for now, the movie is -- at its core -- really just the story of a poor guy who ignored friends and family to take up with a controlling and unstable partner. Mostly, it feels like a big missed opportunity.