Lifetime’s Identity Theft of a Cheerleader: Is the Movie Based on a Real Life Case?

Lifetime’s ‘Identity Theft of a Cheerleader’ is a thriller film that revolves around Vicky Patterson, a 30-year-old high school dropout who’s working a dead-end job at a fast food restaurant. Vicky still lives with her mother, who is disappointed in her daughter and disapproves of everything she’s done in life. Faced with a mental onslaught from every side, Vicky starts to slowly disassociate from reality. In her desperation to redo her high school years (where all her problems started), she steals the identity of a student who works with her.

Using her identity, Vicky fakes her age and enrolls in the school to get the authentic “high school experience” and finally become a cheerleader. Directed by Christie Will Wolf, the 2019 film stars Maiara Walsh, Karis Cameron, Jesse Irving, Naika Toussaint, Chiara Guzzo, Matty Finochio, and Benjamin Wilkinson. Cases of identity theft aren’t unheard of, but was there ever a case as extreme as the one shown in ‘Identity Theft of a Cheerleader?’ Read on and find out!

The True Story Behind Identity Theft of a Cheerleader

Yes, ‘Identity Theft of a Cheerleader’ is a true story. The screenplay, written by Barbara Kymlicka, is loosely inspired by the real-life case of a  33-year-old in Wisconsin woman stealing her teenage daughter’s identity and attending high school, posing as a 15-year-old. Though the film’s story and the actual incident differ in some regard, the parallels between the two are quite clear.

In September 2008, at the beginning of a new school year, Wendy Brown walked into the Ashwaubenon High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Dressed as a teenager – in a pink hoodie and a bag to match – Ms. Brown took classes, tried out for the cheer team, and even attended a pool party. All of it ended when she was found over two weeks later and arrested by the police. During Ms. Brown’s trial, it was revealed that she’d had run-ins with the law in the past as well, and the prosecutors attributed a monetary gain to be the motive behind her impersonating her daughter and enrolling in high school.

However, further investigation into Wendy Brown’s past and her cross-examination made it clear that there were far more deep-seated issues in play here. In a conversation with The Atlantic, the woman stated that she was bullied at school and accused her mother of allegedly being abusive towards her at home. Brown further claimed when she became pregnant in high school, she had to drop out because the bullying intensified.

Brown explained that all she ever wanted was to get her high school diploma, but the constant barrage of insults towards her and her teenage pregnancy was too much at the time. Some years later, Wendy Brown, her husband, and their two kids moved near Ashwaubenon High School in Wisconsin for a fresh start. Hearing the children day in and day out constantly made her think about her own high school, where everything started going wrong for her until finally, she decided to use her daughter’s identity to fulfill her squashed dreams of being a cheerleader.

Despite the serious case of identity theft, Brown was never convicted of the crime. Instead, the court appointed a psychiatrist to evaluate her, based on whose diagnosis Brown was found not guilty “by reason of mental disease or defect” and admitted to three years in Winnebago mental health facility. It was here that Wendy Brown finally got her high school diploma, and after her release from the institution, she also separated from her husband.

Though ‘Identity Theft of a Cheerleader’ does not take into account most of the details from Wendy Brown’s case, the portrayal of a character as complex as Brown is challenging nonetheless. Talking about what drew her to such a demanding role, actress Maiara Walsh told Hollywood Life, “I like understanding the psychology behind why people do what they do, so I was trying to figure out why would a woman steal the identity of a high schooler and what actually is the tipping point in order to make that happen?”

She added, “How much desperation is she experiencing to make that decision the better decision out of the ones that she has in her life already? There’s a darkness to her, but there’s also a sweetness to her, so she’s very complex and that’s what drew me to her.” While ‘Identity Theft of a Cheerleader’ does well to warn the audience against the crime, what the film focuses on through the true story is how devastating the consequences of bullying and abuse can be to a person’s psyche later on in life. Disturbing at times, the film’s extreme take on identity theft and abuse does highlight these issues properly.

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