[Image Source: IMDB]
My memories of V.C. Andrews’ lurid “young adult” novel Flowers in the Attic
consist of my female high school chums hiding dog-eared copies of the church-window-covered-neo-gothic pulp novel behind their “world history” textbooks as our poor instructor hopelessly tried to enlighten us on what real-life dramas unfolded on the planet for centuries.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” especially when the students never learned about the past in the first place.
Speaking of history repeating (alas, no, not the fabulous Shirley Bassey/Propellerheads number … but listen to that ditty here), Lifetime has decided to dig the goofy Flowers in the Attic out of mothballs and stage its second cinematic adaptation. (By the way, is Lifetime still “television for women” or is it “not for women”? I have no idea but that has always been a reductively embarrassing tagline, if you ask me.)
Yes, Flowers in the Attic now has, not one, but two film adaptations. Some novels barely even get one – The Sound and the Fury anyone? (No, the 1959 Yul Brynner version doesn’t count, though James Franco is working on a new one.) … But Flowers in the Attic gets TWO in only twenty-plus years time.
The first film version – with Academy Award-winner Louise Fletcher as the grandma-from-hell and dippy Victoria Tennant as her dippy daughter – was released in theatres in 1987. And, now, another Oscar-winner (why?!?!) Ellen Burstyn steps into Fletcher’s orthopedic shoes, accompanied by google-eyed, flat-affect Heather Graham as her daughter.
The plot? Oh, brother, the plot. I have to say that the WTF?! schadenfreude part of my soul was transfixed by all the crazy. I felt like Kathy Griffin on Benzedrine watching this tale that seemed written by a 12-year-old girl high on Pop Rocks and Tab.
In short? Graham’s character is a Stepford-50s haus-frau with an idyllic mid-century homestead, four beautiful toe-headed Village of the Damned kids, and a husband who travels a lot with one of those indeterminate 1950s “account executive” kind of jobs. Dad dies in some unidentified calamity, mom struggles for about one commercial break, and then reveals to her kids that she is secretly part of an uber-wealthy family who disowned her when she skipped town to marry the brood’s now-deceased papa.
The clan ventures to a spooky mansion right out of a Bronte novel, meet their mean religious-fanatic bully of a grandma, and are spirited into a spare bedroom with a conveniently adjoining attic because their dying grandfather will never put their mother (Graham) back in the will if he learns of their existence. Whew!
As if that wasn’t insane enough, the kids spend five years (?!?) or so in this bedroom/attic set up, are periodically whipped by their grandmother for their heathen ways, are fed arsenic-laced doughnuts, and then learn the birds and the bees in a very unfortunate turn of incestuous events, including finding out that their dad was actually their mother’s “half-uncle” (which was the first time I’ve ever even heard that familial term). One of the baby twins dies (from the arsenic doughnuts, natch) and the older brother and sister (the latter played by Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka, taking on the role originated by first Buffy the Vampire Slayer Kristy Swanson) fall in love (!) with each other (!!) and run away with the surviving baby twin sibling. Good lord.
(And, yet again, Hollywood has saddled a young actress – Shipka – with a series of unfortunate wigs. Seriously, is effective tonsorial styling beyond impossible in today’s film community? I may have to start a whole new blog just talking about that.)
Yes, I have layered on the holier-than-thou snark, but, damn, this train wreck is entertainingly atrocious. I’m wondering if this work of “literature” is where all my small-town contemporaries learned their great love of “family values.” (Oh, I’m gonna get zapped but good for that comment.)
There’s just not much more to say, other than my heart cries for Burstyn who carries a pained look on her marcel-waved noggin throughout, seeming to telegraph this singular thought: “Where is my agent? I’m gonna kill him.”
I don’t know why Lifetime remade this (or even why we watched it!). Bully for them, though, as it has done boffo, sequel-generating ratings in this current climate where everyone is obsessed with “young adult” serial lit that carries a head-scratching brew of religious, sexual, and authoritarian overtones. And in that climate, who needs “world history” textbooks when we have Flowers in the Attic?