Gone Mom: The Disappearance of Jennifer Dulos Review: When the System Fails, Tragedy Strikes

Spoilers

Money truly is the root of all evil.

It’s one of many takeaways from Gone Mom: The Disappearance of Jennifer Dulos, one of the true-crime-inspired films as part of Lifetime’s Summer of Secrets slate.

The tragic disappearance, and presumed death, of this beautiful, kind woman of five is utterly heartbreaking.

Annabeth Gish’s likeness to the real Jennifer Dulos is uncanny and only elevated the feelings one experienced watching this story unfold, knowing its truth.

For someone who expressed reservations about depicting a real-life victim of something so heinous, Gish, brought such grace and respect to this role.

When films of this caliber are made, especially when the reality of the situation was so tragic and is still fresh and weighs heavy on the real-life people affected, one only hopes there’s a level of respect for those close to it.

Dulos went missing as recently as 2019, and they charged Fotis Dulos with her murder in January 2020.

The wounds are still as fresh as ever for involved parties. The Connecticut community remains rocked by the tragedy.

It felt as if the film took tender care, introducing us to Jennifer, allowing us to get to know this ambitious woman who had dreams and goals.

She wanted to be a writer — she was one, a woman who derived from a life of privilege, but she was dedicated to her plans, independent, and bright.

When Jennifer spoke of what she envisioned for her life and how she fearlessly adapted her goals to her age instead of throwing a pity party when she didn’t meet a specific mark by 30, it made her more endearing and inspiring.

Jennifer was a woman who went for what she wanted and never gave up, and thus her demise is gutwrenching just thinking about it.

She wasn’t the type of woman who would give up on her children, loved ones, or dreams, so the narrative Fotis pushed that she disappeared to frame him was disturbing.

Fortunately, the film didn’t spend a lot of time on how Fotis besmirched Jennifer’s name and reputation to defend himself against murder accusations.

Thus making the title choice for the film misleading (he accused her of pulling a Gone Girl).

Instead, the film smartly focused on Jennifer. And in her absence, Audrey, her devoted, bold best friend who told Jennifer’s story when Jennifer couldn’t.

Jennifer and Fotis’ love story was a whirlwind affair. A sexy one-night stand blossomed into a fairytale romance where the couple married in less than a year.

You could understand why Jennifer’s loved ones would be concerned about that, especially with her coming from a wealthy family. And Fotis benefited from that wealth immediately.

He was so damn charming and handsome. Like Gish, Warren Christie impressed in the role, nailing the line between charismatic and volatile.

Right before our eyes, we saw the shift in their relationship, how he seemed to distract her with babies and child-rearing so he could live the high life.

Jennifer obviously loved her children, but with each child and Fotis’ lack of support, she wasn’t happy. While grateful for her family, the life she led strayed from her initial plans.

Essentially, she was raising their kids on her own with the help of Samantha, and she wasn’t able to fully pursue her dreams of writing novels, all the while Fotis was in pursuit of his.

And worse yet, anytime she brought up how imbalanced things were, he shamed and ridiculed her for her inability to do it all.

He knew how to poke where it hurt, pressing against the feelings of inadequacy or lack of success she’d express at times when she didn’t meet a goal or her imposter syndrome.

He used her family’s money to bankroll his company, poorly manage it, and live the life of a wealthy lothario, but then he’d shame her for being wealthy — implied that she was the spoiled little rich girl that lacked drive.

It was abusive, and while the film went to lengths not outright showing the abuse in great detail, they implied enough of it for us to read between the lines and coincide with the documents and reports.

From the looks of things, he did display some of the abuser traits. He’d blow up on her and blame his actions on her one minute, and then he’d come trying to charm her and apologize.

Jennifer didn’t fall for it, though. After a bit, she made the necessary moves she needed, serving him with divorce papers and staying at her mother’s home with the kids until he got a grip.

Fotis’ temper was in equal measure with his callousness and insensitivity. It was shocking when his reaction to the death of Jennifer’s father was that the man didn’t invest enough in his company.

Who says that on the way home from a funeral?

And his move with Michelle was abhorrent. Despite Jennifer’s frustrations and pleas, he pretty much paraded his mistress in front of her face and told her to deal with it.

The implication that all married men have affairs and that she was some prudish American for not accepting that was appalling.

The roles within their marriage were disturbing but fascinating, considering that Fotis couldn’t become the man he was and live the life that he wanted without her. As the years went on, it was evident he married her for her money, and he loathed the reminder that she had that over him.

Fotis’ behavior when she cut off the credit cards, forcing him to return home from one of his many trips overseas, was remarkable. It’s hard to imagine a man would think he could travel the majority of the year away from his family, mostly partying and whatever else, and not face any repercussions on the home front.

He behaved as if he didn’t see the divorce coming, and Audrey and Jennifer were right about his narcissism. Only a narcissist could behave that way and not anticipate any consequences.

His entitlement was astounding. But so was his behavior as the two of them engaged in a nasty custody battle.

Fotis disregarded what the courts ordered, but then he’d get pissed when he didn’t get his way about something, and you can’t have it both ways. His lack of control was one of his biggest flaws.

It’s disturbing that there weren’t laws in place to protect Jennifer from Fotis’ abuse. He made threats to take away the kids, and nothing came from it.

He threatened her life, and everyone dismissed it because of the casual, common terminology.

I wonder if at any point her nanny, Samantha, is someone who did exist and if any of her statements carried merit since she seemed to be someone who witnessed concerning behaviors and Fotis’ volatile streak.

Sadly, only after Jennifer’s disappearance and death did Connecticut implement better domestic abuse laws. Jennifer’s Law was even named after her.

It was a bit surprising that Fotis claimed to want custody of his children since he spent so much time away from them.

It felt as if it was more about image since things like the kids taking water ski lessons mattered so much to him. It also seemed as though his intent was more about what would’ve hurt Jennifer most.

He almost ran her down, he threatened her — his behavior often seemed to escalate. It’s awful that the signs were there, but there was no saving Jennifer.

Fotis was depicted as cold and uncaring when he found out she disappeared, and he was dismissive, only focused on his children coming to stay with him despite the custody order.

For someone who swore he had nothing to do with her disappearance and death, he sure didn’t help himself in any way. He couldn’t fake concern; his inability to keep his temper in check was well-known and documented even in the courts, and he behaved like a guilty person.

Audrey pointed them in the direction of Fotis, and he was the most obvious suspect the entire time.

The film chose to focus more on Jennifer, narrating her blog entries, so we got pieces of this woman and learned about who she was.

We saw how she fell in love with Fotis, but also how everything fell apart for them. Even when Jennifer was gone, and it shifted to Audrey speaking in Jennifer’s memory, Jennifer was at the center of this film.

It wasn’t too heavy on the investigation, jumping through most of it, speeding through matters by the end.

It’s a difficult case to show in this manner because of the unanswered questions and lack of closure in many ways.

Part of the satisfaction from watching something like this derives from knowing some form of justice happened. Despite many unknowns about this case, they did a great job presenting what police knew to give us a conclusion.

It made sense that the only reason Jennifer’s bag was on the kitchen floor like that was because of Fotis striking her as she went inside.

It made sense that he used roughly ten rolls of paper towels to clean up after Samantha shared that she put a fresh dozen in the pantry. The holes in his alibi because of Michelle lined up.

The video footage, bloody clothes in the dumpster, and all of that built the case, even though they never found Jennifer’s body.

While there’s a form of solace in knowing and believing that Fotis was guilty and would’ve gone to prison for her murder, there are still these loose threads that probably don’t feel like closure for Jennifer’s family and loved ones.

Fotis took his life instead of turning himself in, and his death wasn’t the gruesome, vicious one he doled out to Jennifer. He died peacefully from carbon monoxide poisoning.

And he still didn’t own up to murdering Jennifer, let alone did he disclose where her body is.

Not to mention, he left five kids without either of their parents.

Meanwhile, as far as we know, Michelle is facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder.

You could say this film was more on the life part and less on the investigative nature of the crime.

If you favor the latter over the former, perhaps the documentary Beyond the Headlines: The Jennifer Dulos Story, from Jennifer’s mother, speaking to those closest to her and Fotis is more your speed.It follows the film at 10/9c.

Over to you, Lifetime Fanatics?

Did you follow the case when it happened? What are your thoughts on the film?

Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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