Martha Behind Bars (2005) / Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for themes
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Cybill Shepherd, Gale Harold, Sabine Singh, Jonathan Higgins, Alan C. Peterson, David Alpay, Julie Khaner, Lori Hallier, Jackie Burroughs, Alec McClure, Deborah Tennant, Robert Velarque
Director: Eric Bross
Screenplay: Charlie Bohl
Martha: Behind Bars isn't a particularly flattering portrayal of Martha Stewart, although it does show an accurate disconnect that is prevalent among many wealthy celebrities with the way things are for "normal folk". When you're used to getting your way, especially when you have assistants that wait on you hand and foot, there is a feeling of shelter and accommodation, making you feel above reproach should something go wrong -- someone else always takes care of mistakes, and usually never tells you you're wrong.
The events of this movie are well publicized, making national headlines due to Martha's celebrity status. It starts off with an introduction to Martha and how she is on the job, and eventually deals with some main players that would end up getting her in trouble. Stewart, who was fast approaching billionaire status, was given a tip by an associate in a new drug that was "guaranteed" to make her even wealthier, so she bought some stock, only to sell it when she found out the same associate had sold his. All of these things are illegal, of course, falling under the category of insider trading. Stewart, the eyewitnesses contend, also lied about the events, although she still maintains her innocence to this day. Martha would end up serving 5 months in a minimum-security prison for her misdeeds, and the last third of the movie shows how she dealt with prison life.
This is actually Cybill Shepherd's second time portraying Martha Stewart in a made-for-TV movie, with the first being Martha Inc.: The Story of Martha Stewart back in 2003. Although Shepherd may not exactly be a dead ringer for Stewart in appearance, she does have her voice and mannerisms down, and to some extent, her body shape. Shepherd does a very good job in her performance, which requires a great deal of subtlety, as Stewart is very indirect in her feelings, especially when she is angry.
Cutting right down to the matter, there's just always been something campy about Martha Stewart, the self-righteous busybody that has become a household fixture in many homes thanks to her interesting anecdotes, whimsical catchphrases ("It's a good thing"), and rose-colored outlook on life. Martha: Behind Bars draws most of its energy from her (unintentionally, it seems) tongue-in-cheek appeal, as it is just as campy as Martha seems to be herself, with many depictions of Martha out of touch with just what's going on around her, although by the end of the film, a few sympathetic touches are thrown in to show just why she is the envy of millions of people.
Martha Behind Bars is strictly for people that love celebrity gossip, especially when it deals with Martha Stewart. Like the Martha herself, the movie is vacuous and cheesy, and yet you can't bring yourself to change the channel, as she absorbs you in her peculiar outlook and a peek into a world bizarre few of us are privy to experience firsthand.
©2005 Vince Leo