Lifetime’s ‘Flowers In The Attic’ Is Everything You Want In A Cheesy Incest Sexytime Movie
Have you blocked off time Saturday night to watch Lifetime’s teevee movie adaptation of V.C. Andrews’s incest melodrama classic (how do THOSE words all look together, huh?) Flowers in the Attic? You better! The made-for-tv movie is a delightful slice of (hopefully) deliberately overacted cheesiness that only hangs together because everybody of a certain age knows every moment of the story thanks to repeated furtive teenage readings.
If you are old, you are saying to yourself “hey, wait a minute, self. Didn’t they already make a Flowers in the Attic movie?” Yes, self, you are so smart! They did! Back in 1987, with the future Buffy the Vampire Slayer (movie, not teevee) Kristy Swanson in the role of Cathy, the eldest Dollanganger daughter, played in this version by Kiernan Shipka aka Sally from “Mad Men.” Forget all about that version. Shut up about that version already because nobody cares, baby, and you are indeed old. Just settle in and watch this one instead.
Do you remember the plot? How could you NOT remember the plot? Perfect flaxen-haired quartet of children live perfect life until dad dies, at which point mom (Heather Graham) whisks them off to live in the attic of her fabulously wealthy parents’ mansion. The children can never come out until grandpa kicks the bucket, because grandpa can never know about how Heather Graham made all the perfect babies with her half-uncle. Grandma (Ellen Burstyn, punching WAY below her weight here) is both utterly insanely evil and tentatively sympathetic, with no rhyme or reason as to which version will appear in the attic on any given day. Of course the kids stay stuck in the attic as mom goes off to have a fabulous new remarried life and of course Cathy can only turn to her brother, Chris (Mason Dye), as she begins her flowering of womanhood.
Cathy is the off-screen narrator and the character who is supposed to be the most self-aware about the great pile of suck that is their life now. Shipka’s acting, as was once so famously said of Katharine Hepburn, runs the gamut of emotions from A to B. She’s sullen child one moment and womanly-flowering another, and that’s about it. Basically, she just plays a slightly older Sally Draper who does sex on her brother. Her greatest acting achievement here is succeeding at that hoary old trope where she gets the hair-hacked-off-with-kitchen-scissors haircut but somehow it still looks great. However, next to Mason Dye playing her brother/sexytime friend Chris, Shipka is Laurence Olivier. Dye is nothing but a living breathing Ken Doll, all smooth hairless muscles and limited facial features. But that’s OK, because his only job is to have sex with his sister and climb around manfully over fences and prowl silently through the house as he searches for a way to free them.
Heather Graham is actually the biggest unexpected treat of the show. As a mom with a story arc that goes from perfect wife and mom to awful mom who locks up her children for years, she plays everything with a brittle wide-eyed 1950s housewife intensity.
She’s nothing without a man to take care of her, and absent that man, the children are just unfortunate burdens who are better left unheard and unseen. Each time she shows up, she’s a little thinner and glossier and faux-weepier. It’s marvelous.
Burstyn is as great as you think she’ll be, slumming it here in an end-of-career turn that reminds you of when Barbara Stanwyck showed up in “The Thorn Birds.” Now don’t you wish you could go watch “The Thorn Birds” again? Of course you do, silly. You can actually go watch it all over at Amazon.Isn’t modern technology grand?
“Flowers in the Attic” airs Saturday January 18 at 8pm Eastern, with repeated showings throughout the weekend, so you literally cannot miss it.