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Do the cast of the Gabby Petito Story shed light on what happened?

True crime is one of the most marketable industries in popular culture. We all have a morbid fascination with horrific acts, and what could drive a person to commit them. Especially if they are seemingly committed by someone close to the victim, or if the specific details surrounding the crime are unclear.

Such is the case with Gabby Petito, the woman who was killed while traveling with her fiancé Brian Laundrie in 2021. The couple seemed to have it all, but Petito’s disappearance, and the subsequent discovery of her death, pulled back the curtain on Laundrie’s twisted personal life.

The coverage that Petito’s death received from the media meant that her story would inevitably be sourced for fictional retellings. This is where The Gabby Petito Story comes into play. The Lifetime TV movie aired, and recounts the events leading up to, and after, Petito went missing. Does the movie shed light on the real case? Let’s investigate.

TV adaptation

The Gabby Petito Story premiered on October 1, 2022. It’s directed by Thora Birch, who had previously made a name for herself as an actress in films like Hocus Pocus (1993) and American Beauty (1999). Birch told IndieWire that she was drawn to the Petito case because it represented a fascinating split between grim realism and the manicured, perfect life that Petito and Laundrie depicted on social media.

The film stars Skylar Samuels and Evan Hall as Petito and Laundrie, respectively. Samuels is best known for her stint on the horror-comedy series Scream Queens, and Hall rose to fame with a supporting role on Orange Is the New Black. Douglas Taurel, Monica Moore Smith, and Birch herself round out the rest of the cast.

The Gabby Petito Story had lots of buzz ahead of its premiere, but it ultimately fell flat with critics and fans. There’s no consensus critical score on Rotten Tomatoes, but the audience score sits at 43 %, with particular criticism aimed at the superficial retelling of events.

Courting controversy

If the frigid critical response wasn’t enough, the cast and crew have been criticized for taking part in an adaptation while the Petito case is still underway. Hall told outlets that he felt the movie was a “cautionary tale” and approached it as such, which makes sense given his performance as Laundrie.

Samuels, meanwhile, dealt with the ire of fans who felt that a Lifetime movie was disrespectful to Petito’s memory. The actress told the Sun that she hesitated to accept the role, knowing that there was a lot of responsibility and pressure attached to it, but she ultimately did on the grounds of wanting to shed light on a different aspect of Petito’s character.

“I felt it was a chance to give Gabby a voice in her own story that I don’t think the media did justice with,” she noted. “The world should know that she was a fighter and she was fierce and there’s a lot more to her than initially displayed.”

What happened in the movie?

The final act of The Gabby Petito Story is tricky, since there are still so many details about the case that are being sorted out. There were undoubtedly those who sat down to watch the movie with the hope that it would shed light on particular details, or perhaps bring a certain aspect of the case to the forefront.

That’s not necessarily the case, here. The Gabby Petito Story recounts all of the events that a casual follower of the real-life investigation already knows about: the disappearance, the deception, the media frenzy, and Laundrie’s own death. If shedding light on the subject is a requirement of quality, then this movie does pass the test.

Petito’s family has said that they do not approve of the movie. Nicole Schmidt, Petito’s mother, told outlets that she did not give Lifetime permission to make the movie, and was not sought out by the network to craft a depiction of Petito that was true to life.

Have you seen The Gabby Petito Story? What did you think of it?

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