A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Flowers in the Attic is a drama based on a very popular 1980s pulp novel about a family whose children are locked in an attic by a scary mother and grandmother. Incest is a major theme since the children are a product of it, and the older siblings eventually become intimate, though only kissing is visible. Violence is limited to whipping, slapping, and shoving with a lot of menacing talk about punishments, but since the violence is doled out by adult authority members, it could be extra frightening for young viewers to watch. A few mild four-letter words are used, and the grandmother calls the children many names, including devil's spawn and devil's issue.
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What's the story?
As FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC opens, the Dollanganger clan has it all. Gorgeous, successful couple Christopher and Corinne (Heather Graham) have four beautiful children: teenage Chris (Mason Dye) and Cathy (Kiernan Shipka), plus young twins Cory and Carrie. But one night, Christopher is killed in a terrible car accident, and, without job skills and unable to support her family, Corinne brings them to the home of her cruel parents. Years ago, they disowned her when she married Christopher who was actually a close-enough relative to make things creepy. The kids, it turns out, are the products of this incestuous relationship. Now Corinne plans to keep them hidden in an attic until she can bring her father around and convince him to let her inherit his millions despite her illicit marriage. Corinne's terrifying mother (Ellen Burstyn) is in on the scheme, and every day brings the children food in a picnic basket, including powdered-sugar doughnuts with one special, menacing ingredient. Corinne comes to visit less and less...and so the loveless and lonely Chris and Cathy turn to each other for their most intimate emotions.
Is it any good?
This is a guilty pleasure for women of a certain age -- just think carefully before you let the kids see it. Parents who remember reading the original book in a breathless rush at camp or hidden under a bedsheet want to know one thing: Does Flowers in the Attic go there? The original book has full-on brother-sister incest, kinda-sorta rape, a murderous mom, and more absolutely purple plot points. Does the TV movie version of Flowers in the Attic have all that stuff? In contrast to the tame 1987 film, yep! Most of the incest action happens offscreen, but there are a couple of decidedly non-filial bro-sis kisses, then cut to Cathy and Chris cuddling in bed and Chris declaring his unending love for her, in a scene that would be kinda sweet if it weren't creepy.
This Flowers of the Attic also nails the menace of the grandmother, with a scene-chewing performance by Ellen Burstyn that could give even adults nightmares. Heather Graham as Corinne and the young actors who play Cory and Carrie aren't as good, but they have less to do in the movie, anyway. Shipka, best known as the nuanced daughter Sally Draper from Mad Men, is a sympathetic character who manages to ground some of the more melodramatic plot points and makes us care about Cathy Dollanganger, at least in the sense that we want to see what will happen next. Not to worry, book-version fans, all the scenes you remember and love are here, and nicely done.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how realistic the story Flowers in the Attic is. Would a set of children really allow themselves to be imprisoned this way? Would they begin looking pale and sick as the Dollanganger children do?
How does the original novel Flowers in the Attic compare to the movie? Is it more believable or less? Do you relate more to the characters, or less?
Who is the main character in Flowers in the Attic? How can you tell? Is this character heroic or an anti-hero? Why?
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