If you think your family is dysfunctional, watch this movie and feel relieved. Adapted from V.C. Andrew’s series of scandalous novels, TV movies “Flowers in the Attic” and sequel “Petals in the Wind” follow the sad, strange lives of the Dollanganger siblings. Remarkably well-made for its medium, “Petals” is a must-watch for anyone who loved the books – everyone else might find themselves either sucked in by the drama or repulsed by the ick factor.
This film picks up about ten years after the events of the attic. Oldest twins Cathy and Christopher, and younger sibling Carrie have lived relatively normal lives with a kind doctor who adopted them after they escaped from grandmother’s house in the last movie. Cathy and Christopher still fight their attraction to each other while Cathy trains to become a leading ballet dancer. Carrie, stuck in a sort of limbo after the death of her twin ten years ago, gets incessantly picked on at school. But what of Corrine, their indifferent mother, who still hides the fact of her children’s existence from her husband? Cathy has plans for her, which come to fruition through a morbid series of twists and turns.
Lifetime is probably the only channel that could have done justice to the book. Through the casting of Heather Graham, who is able to play Corrine as a wanna-be upper-class lady with a glint of crazy in her eyes, and Ellen Burstyn as the frightening grandmother, they manage to capture at least a few of V.C. Andrew’s characters really well. Rose McIver manages to recreate the scheming part of Cathy’s personality, but completely misses the mark on vulnerability, which is the hallmark of her character. Let’s not even speak of the Julian character, written to be dangerous and appealing all at once, but portrayed in the film as just a petty, whiny brat. He isn’t even given the redeeming qualities that keep Cathy by his side for so many years.
“Petals” does fall victim to some of the time constraints of a TV movie. The book is long and detailed, and in fact picks up right after the events of the first book. It describes the meeting of the children and their doctor benefactor, Cathy’s eventual romantic relationship with him, and Carrie’s story arc, which gets short shrift in the film. By leaving all this out and picking up after the children are grown, viewers unfamiliar to the story will get confused. They might especially be confused by the explanation of Carrie as a “freak,” to quote the girls who pick on her. In the book, Carrie’s growth was stunted, leading to an abnormally large looking head on a tiny body. The movie tries to explain her strangeness as stemming from the fact that she always carries a doll with her. As if those melodramatic schoolgirls didn’t have bigger quirks than that.
Ultimately, a miniseries would probably have served this series better. It would have allowed for the character development and story details that are sorely missed here, although the overall feel of the book is retained. “Petals” can be enjoyed for what it is, if “enjoyed” is the right adjective for a story that is filled with abuse of children and the elderly, incest, and scheming relatives.