Is it possible to find happiness without having to pay a high price for it? What happens when circumstances force you into an even more dangerous situation? That's part of the premise behind the new Lifetime movie "Flowers in the Attic," which followed how four children suffered cruelty from the people that were supposed to love them unconditionally. The results were dynamic to watch acting wise, but the story seemed like it was holding back on more than one occasion.
"Flowers in the Attic" followed how the Dollanganger kids appeared to have it all with two loving parents and everything else they ever wanted. Unfortunately, they didn't know the truth behind the facade of their lives. Christopher (Mason Dye) and Cathy (Kiernan Shipka) had a close bond as they tried to be good examples for their younger siblings Cory and Carrie. Sadly, the kids weren't prepared for the truth after their father died suddenly in a car accident. Their mother Corrine (Heather Graham) struggled with her grief and was forced to reveal that the family didn't own anything that was in the house. They would also have to vacate the premises, because the bank was close to taking everything away from them. After months of writing letters, Corrine finally received an answer to her prayers. She got a response from her mother Olivia Foxworth (Ellen Burstyn) after years of estrangement. Corrine wanted to come home to visit with her dying father to see if she could be written back into his will after he wrote her out many years ago. It turned out that Corrine's estrangement from her mother was based on the fact that she married the wrong man for multiple reasons. Corrine's late husband ended up being a blood relation and their relationship didn't sit right with either of her parents. They were forced to leave everything behind to avoid a major scandal. Despite the invitation to come back, there were numerous conditions attached. The four children were forced to share one bedroon and weren't allowed to make their presence known in any way. They also had to do everything that their grandmother said for fear of harsh punishment, which she demonstrated a few times. As time passed, Cathy and Christopher leaned on each other in ways that could get them in even more trouble if they were caught. Will the kids be able to escape their personal prison or will they die trying?
In terms of questions, the movie managed to answer some, even though the film's ending left viewers hanging for a stronger resolution. It did leave open for the possibility of a sequel if the first movie did well. Since the V.C. Andrews novel was published in 1979, many readers have discovered how the Dollanganger kids struggled under the weight of family secrets and scandal. This movie isn't the first time that Hollywood has attempted to bring the novel to life. In 1987, a big screen version was released with disappointing results as some key elements from the book were left on the cutting room floor for reasons unknown. With the remake, the story is a little closer to the book, but the film's general tone appeared like it was hiding some of the book's most potent material for fear of scaring away Lifetime viewers. Sure, there was still enough darkness and drama to keep viewers interested, but some of the scenes were sometimes too subtle at times to give viewers enough of a shock value that made the book so controversial when it was published. It also helped that the movie's key casting elements managed to work in the movie's favor in the end. The casting of Ellen Burstyn as the wicked grandmother was pure genius, because she managed to project enough malice in her scenes without going over-the-top like Louise Fletcher did in the 1987 version. She could simply give the camera a withering glare to make viewers fear for the Dollanganger children. Unfortunately, the film's major casting casualty was Heather Graham as the selfish and manipulative Corrine. She seemed out of place at times and had very little to do, except pretend that the character was the fairest one of them all no matter how much she ignored her children. It was also disappointing how she disappeared from the story rather quickly without getting her comeuppance. Hopefully, a possible sequel will help rectify that at some point.
In terms of breakout performances, Dye and Shipka led the pack as the movie's most sympathetic characters who allowed their innocence get corrupted by their surrounding and doing something that their grandmother always feared would happen. Shipka's Cathy was supposed to the film's voice of reason amongst all of the chaos and evil that surrounded her family. She embodied Cathy with a conflicting sense of innocence and rebellious anger as she struggled to come to terms with the fact that her once loving mother fell victim to greed at the expense of her children. Shipka's strongest scene came when she ultimately confronted her mother about her deception and ended up getting slapped for her trouble. She demonstrated Cathy's shock over Corrine's betrayal as she turned into her grandmother, but she managed to give her character the right amount of anger as she fought back by slapping her mother even harder. Shipka also had an interesting rapport with Burstyn's wicked grandmother that seemed almost loving at times without going too far to display any true sense of genuine affection. Dye, on the other hand, had the more challenging role of playing the tough but naive Christopher who wanted to believe the good in people, even when they continued to betray him. Dye's strongest scene was when he demanded that his grandmother address him by his first name, even though he got punished for his act of rebellion. Shipka and Dye had a strong rapport that made people believe that they could brother and sister off-screen as well. They also managed to handle the film's scenes appropriately where they tried to address the incestuous nature of Cathy and Christopher's close relationship. Rather than make the on-screen relationship inappropriately tawdry, Shipka and Dye managed to make the tone of those scenes feel like the siblings were bound to turn to each other due to their harsh circumstances and not based on biology. Let's hope that Dye and Shipka get the opportunity to address their characters' close relationship sooner rather than later.
"Flowers in the Attic" premiered on January 18th at 8:00 pm on Lifetime. Check your local listings for future airings of the movie.
Verdict: This movie remake sticks a little more closely to the book, but the overall tone feels a little too sanitized at times to make worth reading the book again to see what was missed.
TV Movie Score: 3 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)