Lifetime’s Story of a Girl begins like many a modern parent-teen nightmare. Middle-schooler Deanna Lambert (Ryann Shane) is wooed by her big brother’s handsome flatterer of a best friend, takes a giant step toward adulthood and, in no time, learns a video of her “first time” has gone public — branding her a pariah at school and turning her home into a silently simmering war zone. But before you roll your eyes at the prospect of yet another “don’t post your naughty bits” cautionary tale, know this.
Based on Sara Zarr’s young-adult novel and helmed by actress and first-time director Kyra Sedgwick, Story of a Girl gives the moment its due, then moves on to what truly matters — what happens next when we make a mistake that won’t let us go.
Driven into mercurial despair when the video surfaces — a sin he won’t forgive even three years later — and forced to work as a mechanic when he loses his white-collar job, Deanna’s dad Ray (Scandal’s Jon Tenney) is further incensed when Deanna’s brother Darren (Iain Belcher) impregnates his girlfriend Stacy (Sedgwick’s daughter, Sosie Bacon), moving into the basement with his young family instead of moving on to a bright future.
But when Deanna lands a job at a local pizzeria owned by unflappable Michael (Sedgwick’s husband Kevin Bacon), a quirky local with an outsider story of his own, it sets in motion a long overdue cycle of self-awareness … and, ultimately, forgiveness.
Set in a small seaboard town and filled with quiet but emotionally potent moments, Story of a Girl boasts a welcome Judy Blume-like feel as Deanna, now 16, tries to craft a life beyond being the girl in that video whose dad can’t look her in the eye. There are no emotional pyrotechnics, no wince-worthy stereotypes — just believable, wounded souls trying to cope with life’s sucker punches.
“It is about connection and the fragility of connection and families and how quickly and easily they get fractured,” says Sedgwick, “and, with that, how forgiveness can feel so far away. Because his is also very much a father-daughter story and a family story. How do you take control of your own narrative as a young woman, as a young man? How does a father wrap his arms around the young woman that was the young girl when she gets older and starts making her own choices and becoming a sexual being?
“I also think it’s so fascinating to see that Deanna’s getting shamed and slut-shamed for what she did when she was 13 — and her brother is living in the basement with his baby mama!” adds Sedgwick, who wanted to make a film that echoed the after-school specials and coming-of-age movies that comforted her when she was young. “They’re not married and there’s an actual baby that came from that sex. It’s like, no one’s talking about that sexual act; they’re only talking about her sexual act. And it’s not just because it was on the internet; it’s because girls shouldn’t want to have sex.”
To craft her father-daughter relationship, Sedgwick let Tenney and Shane bond, then told Tenney — “the life of the party on set” — to shut down, a la Ray. “I didn’t want him to make anyone comfortable,” she says. “This was a really dysfunctional family and I wanted him to be kind of a terrorizer. With Ryann — and it sounds cruel — but I really wanted them to be estranged. That was important to me and I thought it would be helpful. I think it was, honestly.”
“In real life, I have awesome parents and I am very close with my dad, so it was easy for me to tap into that lonely, abandoned resentment that would come with not having a relationship with your father,” she reflects. “The second I imagined it, I just got so upset, because I cherish my relationship with my dad so much. But I totally understood what Jon was doing. It felt like I was vying for his attention like Deanna — we both got good work out of it.”
Shane also spent some quality time on set with Zarr, who explained the very personal reason she wrote Story. “It’s not autobiographical, she did pull out of stuff from her own experience. She felt like Deanna’s story needs to be told because a lot of stories about high school — especially 10 years ago when it was written — didn’t really dive into the quieter types and the quieter moments of high school and how you deal with darker pasts or situations that force you to grow up when you’re still a kid,” Shane explains. “She just shared some stories about what it was like for her and how that kind of inspired some moments in the story which was really cool.”
Sedgwick says directing Shane — who at 23 is not just believable but a wonder as the teenage Deanna — made her job easy. And telling this family story with her own family (son Travis provided music) was a dream come true. “It was amazing working with my family,” she says. “It was so easy to direct Kevin and Sosie. They were absolutely incredible beyond my wildest dreams. I pray that people actually watch this together as a family, too.”
Story of a Girl, Sunday, July 23 at 8/7c on Lifetime