Plot: After her husband dies in a car accident, Corrine (Heather Graham) finds herself in a desperate financial situation. The couple were not just living paycheck to paycheck, but were in deep debt and hadn’t even paid off the furniture, let alone a mortgage or other core elements. With no other options, she has to turn to her estranged family, who have immense wealth, but there are reasons she distanced herself. If she wants to be back in the will, she needs to convince her father that she’s worthy and as it happens, he doesn’t want her to have kids. Of course, she already has four children, so in order to hide the truth, she leaves them with their grandmother (Ellen Burstyn), who hides them in the attic and has some brutal rules. As Corrine tries to secure the finances the family needs, the grandmother preys upon the children, who start to unravel under the isolation and cruelty of this attic existence. Will Corrine’s efforts save her family or is there a darker secret involved in this bizarre scenario?
Entertainment Value: This adaptation of V.C. Andrews’ unsettling tale of dysfunction is unable to go for broke with the narrative, but is a fun watch and loaded with over the top melodrama. That this was a made for television movie means that the incest and abuse has to be toned down, which lessens the creepiness and shock value, but it does push a little when it counts. This is more polished than most Lifetime productions and the cast packs more star power, but it still feels in line with the channel’s usual content, which is a double edged sword. Those who appreciate the dialed up drama will be more likely to overlook the slower stretches, since the melodrama is present, while those here just for a V.C. Andrews story might not have that same patience, since they want a more tradition movie experience. And the movie is slow at times, likely because Lifetime didn’t want to go all out on the shadier elements of the narrative, but again, the melodrama and such help balance that out. I think Flowers in the Attic works best when it does focus on the darker, more disturbing parts of the story and when it pulls back, the pace slows and the atmosphere drops tension. But overall I had fun with this version and I think for a Lifetime production, this pushes a little more than expected and fans of the channel’s movies should appreciate this.
I do love that Lifetime was able to secure some high profile, acclaimed talent for this movie, as it adds a lot to the picture. The high melodrama of the channel’s movies is always fun for me, but seeing Ellen Burstyn devour her scenes in an over the top, dysfunction laced effort was a wild ride. She commits to the role too, really filling it with enthusiasm and passion, which makes her character’s unstable, dangerous persona quite the menace. I think it veers into humorously wild at times, but that kind of unhinged presence is still a source of great entertainment. And Burstyn is so talented, even if she chews up all of her scenes, her performance is likely to be head and shoulders above most of her peers. Heather Graham has a prominent as well and is eerie at times, but mostly comes off as a sociopath. She is more reserved than Burstyn here, though she has her moments to let loose and in those situations, she does. The cast also includes Kiernan Shipka, Mason Dye, and Beau Daniels.