Flowers in the Attic
A liveblog of the Lifetime 2014 made-for-TV movie.
As based on the salacious V.C. Andrews novel we all gleefully and guiltily read in school, this is yet another revisiting of things in our childhood that should best be left forgotten but will be trotted out and poorly remade for no good purpose whatsoever.
If you don’t know the story of ‘Flowers in the Attic’, well... you’re in for a treat? (That’s no accidental question mark, either.)
2:03 “We never colored even one of our paper flowers yellow.” After a wistful voiceover tour through a gloomy mansion, the film begins.
2:47 Behold the happy family bathed in warm buttery light. Four blonde children, blonde mother, blonde father, sunlight pouring through the window, everybody picturesque and joyous. Obviously this can’t last.
3:48 I totally buy that Heather Graham is a happy homemaker. Don’t you? She bakes! She wears an apron! She has four bouncing children!
4:28 Ginger, on Kiernan Shipka: “She’s sulkier and more moody than Sally Draper.” It’s true. Save your moping, Sally Draper. There is much worse to come. SO MUCH WORSE TO COME.
5:43 Oh yes, lest we forget, the “Dresden doll family” of blonde perfection is named Dollenganger. The Dollengangers! The parents are Christopher and Corrine, the eldest boy is Chris, Sally Draper is Cathy, and the little twins are Cory and Carrie. It’s like the Duggars if they used ‘C’ and were twisted instead of just plentiful.
6:33 A surprise party. SURPRISE! Your husband’s dead.
8:41 Heather Graham as the mom: “Look at me, I’m an ornament. The only thing I’ve ever been good at is being pretty.” When fact and fiction collide.
12:48 The mom, Corrine, who will henceforth always be referred to as Heather Graham because I just can’t with her having a version of my name, is perkily foreboding.
13:43 Heather Graham’s childhood house, Foxworth Hall, so named because they’re not actually called Dollengangers (one of the many revelations Heather Graham dropped on her children after their father’s death), is a dour epic mansion that they, of course, arrive at in the dead of night. At what point do these children start suspecting their mother might be cray? “We own nothing. But secretly I’m super crazy rich. Our name isn’t Dollenganger. Nobody is meeting us at the train station. Walk in the middle of the night, the air will do you good.”
16:18 Ellen Burstyn is working towards terrifying: “When your mother and I leave here, I will lock this door from the outside.” And she follows it up with “And remember, God sees everything.”
18:05 Really? I mean Ellen Burstyn makes a case for psychologically terrifying but when she balls up her fist in Cathy’s face I giggle a little. Which I shouldn’t because I know what’s coming. AND IT GETS WORSE! But I feel like Ellen is kind of phoning it in here.
20:58 Basically the rules are “Don’t make noise, don’t be seen, don’t run, don’t look at each other, be clean, hide, don’t annoy me, did I mention the noise, and oh, don’t be wicked.”
23:34 Chris is a drinker of the Kool-Aid. “Mom will save us and we’ll all be rich.”
25:34 About the only thing Ellen Burstyn isn’t phoning in is the irritation at the children.
26:16 And now the displaying of Heather Graham’s punished back, red with welts. And yet, if I may, just remember that it gets worse!
28:04 This movie suffers from ‘Expositional Dialogue Syndrome’ in which characters essentially paraphrase entire portions of the novel to further the plot.
28:53 Ginger: “Why half-uncle? Does that make it more palatable? Less evil?” Me: “I think half-uncle because it’s more confusing to the readers so we don’t notice how gross it is.” So the kids are the product of half-uncle and half-niece incest. AND YET.... yes, exactly. It gets worse.
33:14 Chris, the suck up: “You’ve got some great color, mom.” Heather Graham is busy sailing and partying and having fun (in between lashings, presumably). The kids, at this point, have been locked in the attic for a month.
34:04 Dun dun dunnnnn... and Heather Graham reveals a whole bunch of plot device, basically, involving her huge inheritance and need to not have had children. Thus, according to V.C. Andrews, this is how you erase children once you’ve had them. Also, if you’re wondering whether ‘Flowers in the Attic’ is one-off novel for her, it isn’t. V.C. Andrews’ entire oeuvre revolves around either very poor or very rich and beautiful children ill-done by their families in some way and fighting back against horrid circumstance and distressing familial revelations only to get later swept up by the same crap they just escaped. Spoiler: every book is the same. Cyclical. The only differences are the wealth of the titular family and the hair color of the main heroine.
34:54 Ginger: “Why couldn’t she have just put them in foster care? Which is shitty but better than this.” Me: “Here’s why: because a novel about the Dollenganger kids in foster care isn’t grossly titillating.”
36:05 At some point the little twin boy, Cory, got locked in a trunk and nearly died? I don’t really know how this is possible in an attic inhabited by four kids who can’t leave but anyway, that happened. And now he’s all weak and missing his mom so Cathy tells him to pretend she’s his mother. Which is... healthy. Right?
37:27 Everyone in this is giving a terrible, stilted performance made infinitely worse by the monotonous and melodramatic score. It’s as though the composer fell asleep on the keyboard and upon waking up ten minutes later, went “Meh, it kinda works.”
38:54 Heather Graham is a grossly inappropriate mother. NEWSFLASH. Also she is just... bad. At acting.
42:39 Ellen Burstyn decides to have a servant thrown out on Christmas night in the dead cold of winter without any trains scheduled. Because, in case you need reminding, she’s evil.
43:42 Heather Graham mostly emotes by breathing heavily and gasping wide-eyed. It’s dire.
45:34 Oh man, this ridiculous bedroom with it’s carved swan headboard and feather decor. It’s actually insane. It’s like the show bedroom Lynn Bracken used for entertaining clients in L.A. Confidential times ten and without a lick of taste.
48:15 Heather Graham: master manipulator. She correctly calculates that dramatically offering to leave with the children and abandon the money would guilt them into doing exactly as she wants by staying. She doesn’t just take you on guilt trips, she runs the travel agency.
49:37 The kids have been in the attic a year now. They look pale as corpses. And Chris is exploring naked women in magazines. Clearly it’s time to learn about sex so Heather Graham gives Cathy the talk. No good can come of this.
54:12 So... somehow in the night Cathy gets tar in her hair which means it has to be cut. Like while she was sleeping locked in the attic the mysterious tar beast drooled on her? I know you want to suspect Ellen Burstyn but she’s claustrophobic so never comes into the attic. Only into the anteroom at the foot of the stairs.
55:09 Chris admits he tries not to think of girls and wishes him and Cathy weren’t so close. Then he touches her shoulder. And then freaks out and gives her the worst hack job hair cut you’ve ever seen.
56:14 Next scene. Her hair is now inches longer delineating the passage of time. And the twins aren’t growing. They’re like wilting flowers, you see? Dying flowers in the attic. Get it? Because nothing about either the book or the movie is subtle on this front.
57:24 Ginger: “It only took them a year and a bit to start thinking about running away?”
1:00:00 Heather Graham breezes in wearing a truly divine traveling outfit with a “Sweeties!” Guess what? She got married! She just got back from her honeymoon! Kids, why are you so selfish? Why can’t you be, like, totally happy for her? She has great clothes and a new husband! Oh... reveal: the kids have been locked away for more than two years now.
1:02:02 Ginger: “Don’t eat the donuts.” Ellen Burstyn tells the kids, “I wouldn’t eat them, they’re not good for your health.” Ginger: “See? Grandma’s not so bad.”
1:03:00 Ginger, about Chris: “He’s an idiot.”
1:04:55 Ellen Burstyn beats Chris. Which begets naked torso nursing by Cathy. Which begets an unholy kiss between them.
1:08:05 Through plot devices too stupid to mention the older kids now have a skeleton key and go prowling around the house stealing things at night. And discover a ye olde tymey kama sutra type book. SQUICK.
1:09:21 Cathy actually says “I love you, Christopher Doll” which... blerrrrrgggg oh V.C. Andrews. Seriously. And then, moments later, finds her new stepfather, who doesn’t even know she exists, asleep in the ridiculous swan bed and kisses him. Before taking his wallet.
1:12:15 And now it is officially worse. Cathy and Chris fully make out. But because it’s Lifetime and not the novel, there is a fade to the next morning where they’re sprawled in bed together. Which is still utterly gross but trust me that in the novel it’s much worse. So much worse.
1:13:55 Heather Graham and Cathy are slapping each other. Cory is dying. Cats and dogs are laying together. It’s the end times. Or, no, my bad... just a typical V.C. Andrews plot. Heather Graham returns from the “hospital” (if you seriously believe she took that child out of the house I have a bridge you might be interested in buying) wearing a truly hideous beige-on-beige outfit to tell the kids in a dramatic monotone that Cory died of pneumonia. The acting and plot are on a par, quality-wise. And now apparently even the wardrobe has given up trying.
1:17:50 Is Chris a CW actor? He looks and acts like one. He also has suddenly developed a cough. A DRAMATIC COUGH. Dun dun dunnnnn.
1:20:06 DUN DUN DUNNNN.... there’s poison on them there donuts.
1:21:50 Ellen Burstyn is claustrophic, remember? So lacklustre panic commences in this, the climactic escape sequence. Ellen, you are better than this. Why, for the love of all that is holy, why are you in this?
1:24:28 Three children, white as death, wearing ill-fitting dirty clothing, half-poisoned, board a train and nobody questions it. And off they ride into a dramatic voice-over threatening to return to expose Heather Graham to future shame. (In case being the star of this isn't shameful enough.)
Ginger: “So that was kind of terrible.”
Me: “That was horrible. That wasn’t even fun bad.”
Lifetime, you are slipping. This wasn’t fun bad, entertainingly horrible, or amusing melodrama. After the wild high camp of the Donatella Versace ‘House of Versace’ movie, I expected better. Well, I expected worse but in a much more entertaining fashion. This was just dull and terrible and not even as delightfully wretched as the novel. Fail. Multiple thumbs down. (Because of the incest so there are more thumbs than usual. I'm damned for that joke.)
- Corinne Simpson