January 21, 2014
Movie Review: FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC
If you were a teen in the 80s, as I was, surely you hurried to the mall to pick up the latest V.C. Andrews novel, staying up late, hiding with a flashlight under your covers, to read the Gothic deliciousness she served up. Flowers in the Attic was her first published novel, the first book in her first series, and the first book series that I ever became obsessed with. Okay, I still am.
I was gleeful when the 1987 theatrical release made its debut (and sorely disappointed after handing over my money for a ticket and viewing it). When I heard that Lifetime was going to try its hand at a remake, I was skeptical while still holding back the fangirl squeeing inside me. So what did I think of Lifetime's effort?
First and foremost, I wish The Powers That Be had decided to make this into a series. I thought this back in 1987 and I still think it now. In 1987, it would have been a miniseries (remember those?); today it could have been a limited run series, with less than a usual season of episodes. So much happens during the book - - it does cover a good three and a half years, after all - - that it's difficult to get into the ninety-one minutes of screen time that makes up a two hour Lifetime movie. And imagine if a limited run series ran on HBO, say, instead of Lifetime? Nothing against Lifetime but HBO would have the ability to showcase a lot more of the abuse and the incest than the women's network could possibly show.
I know, I know. If you aren't as crazily familiar with Ms. Andrews' work as I am you are probably rolling your eyes and wondering why anyone would want the ability to show abuse and incest, much less more. Read the series, people. The incest, as distasteful as it might be, is a major point in the story and it does make sense in the overall scheme of things. It also sets the foundation for future actions by both Cathy and Chris.
Let's talk about Cathy and Chris (and the other major characters). I wasn't sure I was going to buy Kiernan Shipka in the role upon first glance because physically she did not look to me how I pictured Cathy in my mind. However, and most pleasantly, she turned in a wonderful performance. She was both fragile and steely, exactly how the character of Cathy is supposed to be. She alternates between being a child, a teenager and a young woman, all at once - - the type of conflict any teenage girl suffers from, much less one who lost her father and is now locked up in an attic to grow up, away from all the world except for her siblings, her indifferent mother and her cruel grandmother. While I think that Kristy Swanson, who portrayed Cathy in the 1987 version, perfectly resembled the blonde haired, blue eyed doll that Ms. Andrews penned, I believe she wasn't believable as a twelve year-old in the beginning and that tainted the rest of the movie.
Equally strong was Mason Dye, who portrayed eldest Dollanganger child Chris. He comes across as the Chris in the book does - - strong and smart, yet desperately wanting to believe in his mother. I do wish this version had been able to explore his reasons behind continuing to insist the four children remain hidden away in the attic when Cathy wanted to flee. (In the book, Chris desperately wanted to be a doctor and felt that once they inherited the Foxworth fortune, he would be able to attend medical school).
Initially Heather Graham was an odd choice for the mother, Corrine to me and I wasn't sold on her until Corrine's true (and selfish) colors come out. Up until that point, Graham's Corrine is a helpless little bird who simply cannot function on her own without a husband or her wealthy and estranged parents. Her saccharine-covered demeanor was off-putting until she began to neglect her children and, at that point, her character finally had some real depth and gave Graham something to tear into.
I was a fan of Louise Fletcher as the original Grandmother and held out high hopes for Ellen Burstyn, who did not disappoint. Her Grandmother is cut from a slightly different cloth than Fletcher's; not as outright maniacal and scary, yet intimidating nonetheless. Her end scene is a brilliant one, even if not in the book itself.
Despite the fantastic costumes depicting the fashions of the late 1950s, I was let down by Foxworth Hall itself. In my mind I saw a huge estate, castle even . . . it was described in the book as the most majestic and imposing house in Virginia, with a north wing, south wing, east wing and west wing. While the residence shown in this version was grand, it wasn't grand enough. And not enough of this fantastic estate was seen, from the ballroom to the library to the extravagant bedroom with one of a kind swan bed that Corrine had. The Foxworths were supposed to be the family in Virginia. I wanted to see that. If a woman was going to lock her children up in order to gain an inheritance, it had better be a damn good one and I think Lifetime dropped the ball on that.
In my opinion, the weakest part of Lifetime's effort was the writing. Again, there is so much in the book that I'm sure it was quite a process to cull out certain scenes and dialogue. (Once again, limited series!) But V. C. Andrews gave us a very meaty novel to work with. In my opinion, Kayla Alpert, who adapted that novel for the small screen, took a fine piece of steak and turned out a loose meat sandwich. Except for the changing seasons shown once or twice outside the window, and Cathy keeping a calendar on the attic wall, we have no real idea how long the children were locked up (a similar ailment in the original version). Two weeks or two years? Who would know? And if you can't readily acknowledge how long the children had been locked up, how can you sympathize? Ballet and dancing was the most important thing to Cathy, especially while locked up, and we get one minor scene? Really? The scenes where the children begin getting sick are also perfunctory at best. In the book, Cory was sick at one time for nineteen days; here, he's only sick one time and we only know this because he says he doesn't feel well. The twins - - Cory and Carrie, although they are rarely addressed by their names - - are nonentities and have cameo roles more than anything else. They have little to do other than complain about being hungry and refusing to go outside on the roof. For anyone who had not read the book this movie is based on, nearly all the characters would come across as cardboard cutouts and there would be no emotional connection.
V.C. Andrews fangirl that I am, however, I did connect. I loved the fact Flowers was remade but the remake left me feeling unsatisfied, as if I wanted a rich pastry and was given a Twinkie.
Lifetime has already given the green light to the sequel, Petals on the Wind, and I hope it will do that second book justice but I'm not holding my breath. Petals is a far more in-depth book, spanning over ten years, with many, many events happening. Ninety percent of Flowers was contained in that attic while Petals takes us from South Carolina to New York to Europe and back to Virginia. Clearly actors Mason Dye and Kiernan Shipka will be unable to reprise their roles due to their ages and their respective characters' advanced ages and that is a huge disappointment since their portrayals are what gives Flowers its heart.
Did you watch the remake of Flowers in the Attic on Saturday? And if so, what did you think?