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Film / Smuggling in Suburbia

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Smuggling in Suburbia is a 2019 Lifetime Movie of the Week Teen Drama/Crime Drama, directed by Doug Campbell and written by Robert Ingraham (with a story by Campbell).

Joanie Whittaker (Monroe Cline) is a high school senior in California. She's invited to a party by her ultra-glam classmates Annabel (Shelby Yardley) and Sharnae (Juliana Destefano), where she meets Danny Kellog (Bret Green), a slightly older guy, and learns why Annabel and Sharnae always have such nice clothes and so much money to throw around: they work for Danny delivering specially-calibrated lenses and cameras to high-end photographers all over the country. Joanie accepts an offer to join them as a courier. However, the "lenses" story is a front: the girls are actually trafficking illegal diamonds smuggled in from Africa. While her mother Georgia (Darlene Vogel) becomes concerned when Joanie starts taking unannounced weekend trips to places like New York and Chicago, Joanie asserts her independence. Eventually Joanie figures out the truth and threatens to quit, but two things keep her in the smuggling business: her younger brother Peter (Zander Grable) is diagnosed with cancer and needs an expensive operation, and she falls in love with Danny's business partner Tucker (Cole Reinhardt).

From the same production company as Sleepwalking In Suburbia, but not related.

Smuggling in Suburbia contains examples of these tropes:

  • Age-Gap Romance: Georgia freaks out when she learns that Tucker, the boyfriend of 18-year-old Joanie, is 24 (though part of that is because Joanie lied to her about his age).
  • Alpha Bitch: Annabel and Sharnae both take turns acting this way toward Joanie, with Sharnae being the more directly antagonistic one, flat out telling her she can't come to the party at the beginning.
  • Anti-Hero:
    • Joanie's motivations are very complex for this type of movie. She initially gets involved out of a wish to be socially accepted by cool girls Annabel and Sharnae, then sticks with it to help her brother out, but also falls in love with Tucker, then by the end she's doing it purely out of self-interest (allegedly to pay for college).
    • Georgia is also more flawed than a Lifetime Concerned Mother™ would usually be. On one hand she's a Mama Bear (though she sometimes wanders into My Beloved Smother land). But she's also way too indulgent of Joanie, constantly folding after taking a stand against her daughter's activities. Her decision to start getting nosy about the nature of Joanie's job is motivated more by Joanie dating an older guy than by Joanie's secretive behavior.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Ruthless criminal kingpin Danny is a handsome dude who would blend in flawlessly in any Boy Band.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Joanie finding out that her younger brother Peter has cancer and is in need of a surgery their mother can't afford is what drives to reluctantly return to Danny's illicit business.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Joanie is rescued by her mother and Danny finally dies, but Tucker dies too, after remembering the plans he made with Joanie for life after they got married.
  • Bland-Name Product: Joanie sets up a crowdfunding page for Peter's surgery on GoFundMe...err, make that Pleeze Fund Me.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The smuggling trio comes close, with blonde Annabel, dark-brown Sharnae, and reddish-brown Joanie.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Joanie gets into a bunch of arguments with Georgia over the job and the romance with Tucker, and plays this role when she does.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: In a rather edgy shot for a Lifetime movie, we get a brief under-the-table glimpse of Annabel urinating in fear after Danny slashes Sharnae's throat.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: When Georgia first goes to the police to ask about Danny, she's most likely assuming that Joanie is involved in drug smuggling, or, since this is Lifetime, sex trafficking. She has no clue it's something far more sinister and morally questionable.
  • Easily-Overheard Conversation: The climax is set up after Annabel walks past Joanie at school and happens to hear Joanie talking with her mom on the phone about the DHS sting operation.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: The whole point in having innocent-looking teen girls smuggle the diamonds. The TSA won't suspect they're doing anything illegal.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Danny can be charming and pleasant when it suits his purposes, but he also has an Ax-Crazy side, and isn't above killing his associates to prove a point.
  • Hidden Depths: Danny, the evil smuggling mastermind, is shown playing a grand piano at one point. He also knows enough about linguistics to identify the term "easy-peasy" as a reduplication.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Joanie, who considers herself MIT material, can't pick up on the blaring hints that she's transporting something illegal. She actually drops the ball at a crucial point, but only after her mom has to make the obvious point that companies like Amazon can ship camera lenses quickly and safely and thus there's no need for couriers to travel with them. But she picks the ball up again constantly because Love Makes You Dumb.
    • The TSA doesn't seem to find it odd that teenage girls are traveling all over the country without chaperones.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Not quite Ivy League, but Joanie has ambitions to attend ultra-exclusive, ultra-expensive MIT. This is actually notable because, unlike most movies that Johnson Production Group makes for Lifetime, they mention a real college, not the fictional Whittendale College.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: He's a teen, but Peter still counts as this, suddenly getting diagnosed with the disease, and becoming Joanie's Morality Pet and excuse for sticking with the smuggling operation.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Joanie has every reason to turn Danny and Tucker in once she figures out the diamond smuggling secret, except for one problem—she just started dating Tucker. It gets bad enough that twice she almost derails the federal investigation by tipping him off, only to have Georgia catch her in time. In giving her "The Reason You Suck" Speech over this, Georgia almost names the trope word-for-word.
    Joanie: I'm not a child anymore!
    Georgia: (sarcastic) Oh, that's right! You're 18! Well, here's your first lesson as an adult: love makes you stupid!
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Everyone who's out of the loop about Sharnae's murder just assumes she went missing.
  • Mama Bear: Georgia is very worried about Joanie and ultimately gets the help of the police.
  • Moment Killer: Georgia barges in on Joanie and Tucker while they kiss at a romantic dinner.
  • Naïve Everygirl: Down-to-earth Joanie is trusting of everyone she deals with and has no suspicion that anything illegal is happening when she starts working for the smugglers.
  • Noble Top Enforcer: Tucker is much nicer than Danny, is more concerned with the business logistics of the operation than avoiding the law, and has a sensitive side that Joanie brings out.
  • Police Are Useless: Zig-zagged. At first it seems like Detective Espinoza is completely dismissive of Georgia's concerns about Danny, but after Georgia leaves, Espinoza calls up the FBI and kicks the investigation into high gear.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Sharnae gets killed by Danny when she keeps one of the diamonds for herself.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Somewhat dorky Joanie is absolutely stunning in an evening dress and coiffed hair when she goes to have dinner with Tucker and Danny.
  • Shopping Montage: Early in the movie, as Georgia takes Joanie out to buy a dress for the party.
  • Shout-Out: One of the fake names Joanie uses to donate to Peter's crowdfunding page is "S. Connery".
  • Slashed Throat: How Sharnae meets her demise.
  • Sleek High Rise Apartment: We don't really see the view, but Danny lives in a huge, ultra-cool loft.
  • Space Whale Aesop: "Teenage girls shouldn't get involved with international diamond smuggling operations."
  • Suspicious Spending: Georgia finds it a little odd that Joanie is getting paid in cash, and later that complete strangers are donating tens of thousands of dollars to crowdfund Peter's surgery. It's actually Joanie donating her cut of the smuggling money under assumed names (basically a low-level version of money laundering).
  • Take That!: After Joanie tells her she's going to Detroit, Georgia says "don't drink the water."
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Joanie never really bonds with Annabel or Sharnae, but they work well together in getting the diamonds transported.
  • This Is My Story: It opens with Danny pursuing Joanie with a knife, then there's a freeze-frame and Joanie does a "yep, that's me!" voiceover.
  • Too Dumb to Live: She knows that Danny is a humorless Jerkass and there's no room for error in their business, but Sharnae still thinks she can get away with pocketing one of the diamonds. She loses her life over it.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Sweet Ingenue Joanie picks up enough savvy as a smuggler to be able to steal back diamonds from a pair of muggers by attacking them with a pipe, then she ad-libs an explanation for how she met the sheik that the Department of Homeland Security is using in their sting against Danny and Tucker that's good enough for Danny to accept it without question.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Joanie gets swarmed by FBI agents when she leaves the house to go to Detroit.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • Joanie gets wrapped up in smuggling after her mom encourages her to go the party that Annabel and Sharnae invited her to.
    • Olivia calling Danny to complain about getting 16 diamonds instead of 17 leads to Sharnae getting killed over it.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Peter's transplant operation is successful, then he promptly disappears from the movie.
  • Writer on Board: The script gets in some speechifying about how bad the American health care system is and how repugnant the African "blood diamond" operations are.