It’s been said many a times that the “book is better than the movie”. In some cases it’s a half and half approach for both, but on others the saying doesn’t fully apply. Rare cases have the film being infinitely better, but often not so much.
The New World Pictures film “Flowers in the Attic”, doesn’t even come close to being better than the book nor being good for that matter.
This thriller stars Victoria Tennant (“Louder Than Words”, “Cold Turkey”), Kristy Swanson (“A Belle for Christmas”, “Beethoven’s Treasure Tail”), Jeb Stuart Adams (“Sworn to Vengeance”, “Dragnet”), Ben Ryan Ganger (“Baby Face Nelson”, “Raging Angels”), Lindsay Parker (“Adventures of Johnny Tao”, “CSI: NY”), and Louise Fletcher (“A Perfect Man”, “Of Two Minds”).
The film was written and directed by Jeffrey Bloom (“Juarez”, “Starcrossed”). It is based on the novel of the same name by V.C. Andrews.
The film originally opened on Nov. 20, 1987.
I was just scrolling through Netflix, as I am wont to do, when I stumbled upon this aging film. It dawned on me that I hadn’t yet seen it. For some reason, I was under the impression that I had gotten around to seeing it prior to seeing the remake shown on Lifetime. I hadn’t. It also helped as I could finally stop debating and reading the many titles available on the streaming service. It may have solved that problem, which really was the days only problem, but it brought with it, a whole set of new problems.
First and foremost, lets not make any mistake about this. This is a film made in the 1980s. The year gives that away, but if you were to just jump in, for whatever reason, without knowing this, it’ll be very apparent immediately. Everything points out this detail. The hair, clothes, decorating and the way the film itself looks. Whatever film they used or editing process, or whatever, is not translating as nicely as it should. It all looks so painful and might possibly give someone that lived during that period nightmares. Flashbacks. PTSD. Appointments might possibly need to be made. Whatever it may be, it won’t make for a nice experience.
Moving on from that, there’s the acting. It’s just bad. Practically soap opera bad, but not interesting like a soap opera. There are so many moments that feel like over acting and somehow moves beyond melodrama and enters parody. Sadly this film is not trying to be a spoof, but something taken seriously. Whatever people thought of this film and its acting back then, can’t’ve been good. There were moments that should’ve made me feel for them, but mainly I shrugged and moved on. I didn’t care one bit. Sad. You’re supposed to. The perilous moments these kids found themselves in, weren’t remotely interesting as I didn’t believe them.
The biggest offender was Fletcher. She’s an Academy Award winning actress. I don’t have a problem with the fact that she’s in this, as I’m sure many actresses would’ve wanted that part. It’s a juicy part in a controversial book! Anyway, her portrayal as the grandmother was dull. I wasn’t intimidated or scared by her. Nor was I intrigued by her. Her motives (purely evil) are fascinating in the book, but not here. More annoyed than anything. She’s supposed to be this religious and strict woman, which is evident, but doesn’t really carry any weight. She at first seems like this, but as the film goes on, she just becomes so tiresome. Any ounce of fear she had was gone before the midpoint of the film. Ellen Burstyn was certainly much more fearsome and looked the part. I blame this aspect on it being the ‘80s. The entire look of the character just seemed silly in this film.
Tennant’s character I also take issue with. There’s the stiff performance and her bad accent. Totally noticeable that it wasn’t real. She too was supposed to be mean, calculating and cold, but never fully got there. You saw that she wanted to be, desperately, but just couldn’t make it. Because of this, I couldn’t buy the act that she wanted to get rid of her children forever, even though that’s exactly what I saw her trying to do. There were moments that were supposed to piss you off or frighten you because of her actions, but more I found myself just irritated by the monotony of the whole thing. I couldn’t care one way or the other. For a villain, she failed miserably in this role. She also couldn’t come off overly convincing that she loved her children.
I will say that there were a few quick moments that made me jump. More like lame jump scare reaction than anything. It wasn’t scary or frightening, just surprising that something happened in that particular manner.
Now, I mentioned earlier the newest version for Lifetime, of all networks, and there’s a reason for that. It was infinitely better. Surprising as it’s a remake and on Lifetime. The main reason is it follows the source material much better and isn’t treated in some harshly controlled Hollywood happy ending approach. It was also more intense and disturbing, which is strange to say about a TV movie. This film lacked that intensity and disturbing elements, and ultimately a lot of the psychological aspects, including thriller, that really needed to be present. I blame this fact too on why this film version was bad. It was so badly hindered from being remotely like the book, or having its themes, that it suffocated from lack of creativity.
I agree with the sentiment that the book is better than the movie. However, that being noted, it’s rare that I entirely dismiss a film version of a book. There’s usually some components that I can be okay with, be they changed drastically or subtly. Guess there’s a first time for everything. Unfortunately, I had to discover that with this film. A film that, for a controversial book at one time, didn’t even try to be controversial on screen and ultimately suffered. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be sensitive for your audiences. Guess this is why it earned its PG-13 rating. You take out all the good stuff and you’re left with a more mainstream piece of crap.