Dying to Belong (1997)
Killed by the Bell Tower
As of writing "Dying to Belong" has a 5.7 rating on imdb yet when you read the user reviews they are glowing with some declaring this the best TV movie ever made. Which do you believe? Well after watching "Dying to Belong" I have to go with the 5.7 rating as whilst a well made TV movie it is certainly not the best TV movie ever made. It is a movie which is seriously aided by its cast; a pre fame Hilary Swank shows why she has gone on to be a top actress and both Sarah Chalke and Mark-Paul Gosselaar assist by being recognizable. But beyond the cast "Dying to Belong" ends up an okay but not spectacular TV movie which combines Sorority house hazing with a college cover up.
Having arrived at college Lisa Connors (Hilary Swank - Terror in the Family) befriends Shelby Blake (Jenna von Oÿ) as they both have room-mates from hell so arrange things so that they can room together. Lisa also meets Steven (Mark-Paul Gosselaar - The Princess & the Marine) a reporter for the college paper and they soon become an item. But when Shelby dies, falling from a bell tower during a hazing stunt Lisa becomes suspicious as the sorority sisters lead by Drea (Sarah Chalke) as well as the college seem intent on covering things up whilst Steven is convinced that her death was not an accident.
"Dying to Belong" feels like it takes an age to get going as it meanders through a prolonged set up. Almost the entire first half focuses on Lisa being friends with Shelby and then dating Steven whilst we learn how much it means to Shelby becoming a pledge. We do learn of what appears to be another hazing incident from a year earlier but it feels like it takes an age to get to the real story which is Lisa and Steven trying to blow open the whole hazing thing and college cover up following Shelby's death from the bell tower.
Unfortunately when it gets to what for me is the main storyline it doesn't really get that much better. We get to see various incidents from Steven getting jumped by some unhappy students for a damning article he wrote to Lisa being arrested when they find drugs in her car. It never really bursts into life and often falls back on cliches especially when it comes to the suggested sinister world of sororities with their cloaks and candles.
The one thing which "Dying to Belong" has going for it is the cast and before I get to Hilary Swank I will mention the rest of the cast. Mark-Paul Gosselaar is likeable as Steven, not the most demanding of characters but one which provides just the right amount of love interest. And then there is Sarah Chalke as sorority sister Drea who we quickly begin to suspect of being evil as she constantly throws evil glares at the camera, it means the character ends up cliche but because Chalke is recognizable it helps things. But whilst there are also other good performances especially from Jenna von Oÿ the star of the movie is Hilary Swank and whilst her character isn't great at least as Lisa Swank delivers a character who has different levels which the other characters lack.
What this all boils down to is that "Dying to Belong" is a solid but not great made for TV movie. It is very much the recognizable cast which makes it watchable with a young Hilary Swank showing early signs of what was to come even in a poorly written role.
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