Is it possible to overcome a painful past and move on towards a bright future? Unfortunately, that may be harder than most would think. That’s part of the premise behind the new Lifetime movie “Petals on the Wind,” which had one fractured family struggling very hard to do. The results may be a lot less shocking than the book’s often dark storylines and the characters’ even darker motives, but the overall story was still rather entertaining to watch overall.
“Petals on the Wind” followed the remaining Dollanganger children still struggling to move on from their two year imprisonment in their grandmother Olivia Foxworth’s (Ellen Burstyn) attic. They still endured nightmares of the horrific abuse that they endured from both their grandmother and their mother Corrine (Heather Graham). The worst betrayal came from their mother who ultimately sacrificed them for an opportunity to remake herself in high society with her deceased father’s fortune. Corrine married a prominent lawyer (Dylan Bruce) who had no clue of Corrine’s children and her dark family secrets that forever damaged her as well. Despite ten years having passed, no one has truly moved on from the attic. Corrine lives in blissful ignorance of abandoning her children and her mother’s health has gone into a severe decline since Cathy and her siblings escaped the attic. They found a new family with the help of a wealthy benefactor who provided them with enough money for all three of them to get a proper education. Cathy (Rose McIver) was working hard to becoming a ballerina, while she was immersed in a troubled relationship with fellow dancer Julian (Will Kemp). Christopher (Wyatt Nash) was working hard to become a doctor, while struggling to keep his inappropriate feelings for Cathy in check. Christopher and Cathy’s younger sister Carrie (Bailey Buntain) had the worst of all three of them, because she never truly got over her mother’s rejection and the abuse. She believed that she was never good enough for a bright future, which led to her committing one shocking act that set Cathy and Christopher on a plan for revenge that could ruin everyone. Will they think before they act or suffer even greater consequences?
In terms of questions, the movie posed a lot since this adaptation made some adjustments for time and rather glazed over some of the book’s more shocking plot elements. Even though the movie left out a lot of key elements that made the book very shocking, the movie also touched upon many directly that were overlooked in last January’s version of “Flowers in the Attic” in an effort to satisfy viewers and fans of the books for the most part. The children were aged in an effort to make viewers a little less uncomfortable, especially when Cathy and Christopher were shown consummating their controversial connection. The movie also left out the character of the wealthy benefactor who had a questionable relationship with Cathy as well, but they chose to focus on only partial elements of Cathy’s unhealthy relationship with Julian. The story instead focused on how the children were still coping with their time in the attic and how they chose to do so through very destructive methods, such as Cathy’s plan to get revenge on her mother by seducing her latest husband. The movie also seemed to bounce around between multiple plots without truly connecting them until well into the second half of the story. It would’ve been better served to start with the shocking death that led Cathy and Christopher down their very dark path. Part of the movie could’ve been told in flashbacks to explain how everything led to that point before putting things truly in motion. The movie’s erratic storytelling pace also left one particular character with very little to do, except be menacing from afar. Burstyn’s wicked grandmother was disturbing, and equally fascinating, to watch in the first movie. This time around she was only left with a few key scenes to leave an indelible impact on viewers, especially in her on-screen exit that was rather brutal and brief all at once.
As for breakout performances, Buntain and McIver led the pack as two very different sisters who shared the same emotional and physical scars from the attic. Buntain’s Carrie was very different from her previous role as a much more optimistic ballerina on the now-cancelled show “Bunheads.” Buntain embodied with a sense of youthful innocence that was trapped in the body of a misunderstood teenager who had trouble fitting in with her peers because she didn’t have the opportunity to grow up properly. She designed Carrie to be a fearful girl who was afraid that no one would truly love her for who she was. Buntain’s strongest scene came when she finally came face-to-face with her estranged mother who openly rejected her and her invitation to come to her wedding. This led to her character’s tragic demise and set the revenge story in motion. It was a shame that Buntain didn’t get a chance to shine a little more because she managed to provide the movie with the right amount of innocent that most of the characters seemed to lack, especially McIver’s Cathy and Graham’s wickedly ignorant Corrine. McIver, on the other hand, had the more challenging task of trying to make a somewhat unsympathetic character worth rooting for, even though she was more like her mother than she cared to admit. She embodied Cathy with equal parts vulnerability and malice as she often was motivated out of spite and anger. McIver’s strongest scene came when she finally confronted Graham’s Corrine at a big housewarming party at their remodeled grandmother’s home. She finally gave Cathy the confidence that she seemed to lack as she finally got the closure she needed. It was also nice that Graham’s much maligned character got her comeuppance when her deceit was exposed. Graham deserved an honorable mention because she managed to embrace her character’s truly selfish nature this time around and finally gave up the character’s thin veil of pretending to love her children. Let’s hope that the character will get the grim fate that she clearly deserved from the very beginning. Only time, and a proper screenplay, will tell if that’s the case.
'Petals on the Wind' premiered on May 26th at 9:00 PM on Lifetime. Check your local listings for future airings.
Verdict: The movie improved upon some of the flaws in the original movie, but it's inability to follow too many separate stories nearly derailed the whole story before it truly got off the ground.
TV Movie Score: 2.5 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)