The Lifetime Movie That Stars Will Ferrell And Kristen Wiig

Many famous actors have appeared in Lifetime movies at one point in their career, but it feels less common to see bona fide stars stepping up to the plate. At the 2017 ATX Television Festival, Will Ferrell looked back on his 2015 Lifetime movie, which aired only once on the channel. The panel's moderator jokingly called it Ferrell's "breakout role," and followed up with the questions, "How does this happen?" The audience had also just watched a screening of the film, and Ferrell called it "pretty amazing" that nobody walked out of the theater.

Before its 2015 release, the project had been wrapped in secrecy, according to The AV Club's review. But word leaked early and, per the outlet, losing the element of surprise took the edge off the movie's potential online traction following its premiere. The review called it "a fun oddity instead of the minor cultural moment it could have been."

At ATX, Ferrell shared the motivation behind the project. "I kept thinking it would be fun to star in a Lifetime movie," he said. "I was thinking, 'Oh that would be great to put myself in the middle of one and play it totally straight, maybe put another comedian in it." That's exactly what Ferrell did when he asked fellow "SNL" alum Kristen Wiig to join the project. 

The film's screenwriter Andrew Steele said, "In Hollywood, it's impossible to make this low budget of a movie with Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig." But, somehow, this got made.

The writing is admittedly bad

In its review of "A Deadly Adoption," The New York Times assumed that the Lifetime network pays its actors "presumably, a lot." But, as Ferrell shared on an ATX Festival panel, this movie's cast was hardly paid anything — he even told co-star Kristen Wiig she'd have to get dressed in her car. 

Though the film was low-budget, Ferrell said Wiig told him, "I will do that in a heartbeat." Then, Ferrell explained, "We just cast the rest of the movie the way that they normally cast Lifetime movies." 

When the actor brought on former "SNL" writer Andrew Steele to pen the screenplay and director Adam McKay to produce, it seemed that it might have some comedic bite to it. However, Steele said at ATX that he had been writing out of his element. "The writing is bad, but it was the very best I could do." He continued, "I think for Will and Kristen that was the best they could do with that writing." 

This perspective was supported by The Hollywood Reporter's review. It stated, "There is perhaps no finer line-reading in Lifetime-movie history than Ferrell's admonishment: 'You know the dangers of diabetic ketoacidosis!'"

When answering the question of what makes the movie "bad good," Ferrell told the ATX audience, "[it's] the fact that we're totally committed to what we're doing onscreen." He added, "Also, the story was kind of perfect in the sense that we kind of tackled all the perfect little cliché moments."

A Deadly Adoption left critics confused

For the most part, film reviewers weren't sure what to make of "A Deadly Adoption," calling it anything from parody to homage to a by-the-book Lifetime movie. As Kristen Wiig's character says to Will Ferrell's at one point, "Oh Robert, what a mess," via Lifetime.

The Hollywood Reporter's review of the movie read, "it seems more likely Wiig and Ferrell were bored and Lifetime said 'Yeah, whatever, that's fine!'" This matches what Ferrell described as green-lighting on the movie. At each development benchmark, Ferrell expected Lifetime to refuse their requests. "We said, 'We expect you to say no,' and they kept saying yes," he shared at the 2017 ATX Festival. Screenwriter Andrew Steele added, "They were very gracious to have it on their network, but they kept out of the joke of it."

Though The Hollywood Reporter called the movie "85 minutes of deadpan," the reviewer believed that "A Deadly Adoption" still didn't hit its intended mark. "The best parodies are acts of loving possession that dig deep," the review stated. "There's no sense that Ferrell, Wiig, Steele or director Rachel Goldenberg have any genuine feeling for the low art they're spoofing."

But The AV Club's reviewer saw the movie as an authentic tribute to Lifetime-level absurdism. "Adoption is a meticulous recreation of a Lifetime potboiler, played completely straight by its entire cast, save for a few minutes at the end" ... "It's not a spoof or a riff, it's the real thing."