On Lifetime’s Adaptation of VC Andrews’ Flowers In The Attic

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By Jacqueline Valencia

Before I continue some work on The 8 Fest coverage on These Girls On Film, I have to pause for thought after my viewing of a totally unrelated film, the Lifetime adaptation of the VC Andrews novel, Flowers In The Attic. Anyone who hasn’t read any of the books, please read them first before reading on. There are spoilers here and although I don’t know how one could spoil the film after reading the novel, if you don’t want spoilers regardless, do not read on until you’ve seen the movie.

Flowers In The Attic was and is a seminal novel to a lot of adolescents, especially those of my generation. My mom had received some books from a friend and I found this book in the stack. She caught me reading it one day and instead of taking it away, she just asked me to ask her if there were any questions I had after reading it. I ate up that book and all of the Dollanganger family series after that. I couldn’t help myself. Andrews’ style of writing is fluid and precise in its descriptors. The vivid images that come out of her paragraphs are addictive as Edgar Poe’s works are addictive. The promises of secrets beyond secrets revealed are some of the most enticing things to a young adult. Once you open one door of revelation a pandora’s box of mysteries is presented. And you have to open that box.

It’s not surprising that the novel has become a cult hit since it was released. Flowers has been read by both men and women and its readership expands as we pass it on from generation to generation. Many have put down Andrews’ work by labelling it as trash or pulp for its simple language and its dark taboo subjects. However, Andrews’ turned many first time novel readers into full-time book lovers (the characters reference literary classics as their escapes), and as such, should be commended for that.

The views espoused here can be and are biased by a fan of the novel, (I am sorry, so not sorry, for my use of all-caps for this piece).

Characters appearing in the film version:

Cathy: played by Kiernan Shipka

Mason: played by Mason Dye

Corrine: played by Heather Graham

Olivia (the grandmother): played by Ellen Burstyn

Carrie: played by Ava Telek

Cory: played by Maxwell Kovach

Christopher Sr.: played by Chad Willett

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Director Deborah Chow and writer Kayla Alpert  are pretty faithful to the novel. Well, as much as they can be in a movie’s length of time. I am not a purist when it comes to film adaptations. There are two works of art here: the author’s book and the director’s film. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was not a big hit with Stephen King for Kubrick’s freehand with the novel’s workings. In Kubrick’s defense, Kubrick saw a film and painted it out for viewers with his own version of brushes and his own intentions. In Flowers in the Attic, various things are changed:

1. Bart Winslow (played by Dylan Bruce) doesn’t have a moustache. Bart is someone completely different to Corrine (and to Cathy in the future). His air of mystery and southern fire lies mostly in the appearance of that moustache. Why they would take that out considering the onslaught of an entire month given to moustaches in November baffles me.

2. The attic is tiny in the film. THE ATTIC IS SUPPOSED TO BE AS BIG AS THE HOUSE. It gives the reader/viewer the old time grandeur of Foxworth Hall. Although old chests, vintage gramophones, and dusty clothes make an appearance in the film, there’s very little shown of the place that they inhabit of almost three years there.

3. The infamous swan bed with the jewelled eye is reduced to a bed with a swan rendered into its headboard. If you’re going to have a budget to get that made. It’s simple and not as luxurious as the novel’s. The sight of it is supposed to intrigue Cathy and provoke her sexual questioning angst. In the film, it’s just another set prop.

4. One of the changes I did enjoy was the locking of the grandmother in the attic stairway. I’ve always lacked revenge for the children in Flowers. That rounded up the film quite nicely for me.

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The film captures some good moments and it elicits the some of the visceral reactions from the novel. It reads gross to type this out but Shipka and Dye have good chemistry (ew), Their awkward awakening is keenly felt as it seems to come out of their constrained situation. There’s veracity in their portrayal which is the work of the actors and the director’s focus of her actors’ own real life vivications. Although we’re not given much insight to the twins, they are just as whiny as they’re supposed to be. I am disappointed that there wasn’t a deeper focus on Carrie and Cory, (except for one explosive scene where Carrie stamps her cute foot down against the bull of a grandmother. NO! NO! NO! Stupid grandmother!). Cory is the dreamer, while Carrie goes through her own little transformation in the novel. Both are an imperative reason for Christopher and Cathy’s survival.

Heather Graham and Ellen Burstyn’s performances were passable. I mean, I did end up hating the mother as I usually do and the grandmother even more. I don’t know whether I should blame the faithfulness to the script (the novel isn’t known for its incredible portrayal of dialogue), or the direction, but the acting was just a tiny bit more than wooden. As Graham delivered the lines, “Don’t you love your mother?” she could have easily been saying that to a cardboard box. Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn, although way less campy than Louise Fletcher‘s incarnation (who doesn’t hate Nurse Ratched!) I couldn’t help but find emotion behind Burstyn’s grandmother. The grandmother is supposed to be stone cold and not occasionally on the verge of tears. I have to give her credit for her scary laughter though. That made my skin crawl.

A friend of mine, Jax, said she felt that it was very atmospheric and it made her uncomfortable. For that I believe, I believe the film succeeds in its reworking. A young adult novel about incest and family secrets? How could that possibly not be uncomfortable (watch the Blood Beach director Jeffrey Bloom‘s 1987 adaptation)? That being said, I’d wish a talented director with a bigger budget would pick up this story and adapt it into a franchise of films. My first two picks? Jessica Sharzer who directed Speak and Peter Jackson who directed Heavenly Creatures. While Jackson has become better known for Lord of the Rings, I’m speaking to both director’s adeptness at artfully portraying uncomfortable coming of age films.

While this version of Flowers will most likely be scene and discussed by many fans, it would be interesting to see it opened up beyond its cultish origins. VC Andrews created such a realistic and palpably textured world, people still wonder to this day if it was born out of a true story. As a new generation of youth is exposed to Andrews’ work once again through mass media or the closet of their family’s closet, new book lovers will arise. It would be interesting to see the Dollanganger family saga live on in present varied perspectives.

It would be interesting to see the closets of the past revealed anew.

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* Is Flowers In The Attic based on a true story?  http://www.pajiba.com/trade_news/is-flowers-in-the-attic-based-on-a-true-story-.php

Somewhat confirmed by the editor of Flowers In the Attic! http://the-toast.net/2013/08/12/interview-with-ann-patty-editor-of-flowers-in-the-attic/

* We have been linked over at Bomb Magazine http://bombsite.com/issues/1000/articles/7515  and 3 AM Magazine http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/the-missing-links-298/ … In great company….

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