Director: Karen Moncrieff
Writer: Kayla Alpert, V.C. Andrews
Producer: Kyle Clark, Lina Wong, Richard D. Arredondo
Stars: Heather Graham, Rose McIver, Wyatt Nash, Bailey Buntain, Nick Searcy, Dylan Bruce, Will Kemp, Whitney Hoy, Ellia English, Ellen Burstyn
Ten years after escaping the attic, the Dollanganger children lead new lives in South Carolina until a tragic series of events draws them back to Foxworth Hall.
As delightfully nutty as Lifetime’s “Petals on the Wind” is, the truly shocking reveal is that it is apparently less absurd than the even more melodramatic novel upon which it is based. That’s almost impossible to believe considering that the TV movie adaptation already crams as much tawdry ribaldry into 88 minutes as “Days of Our Lives” puts into a full year’s worth of scripts.
Since waiting for Kiernan Shipka to grow older was an impractical option, Rose McIver takes the reins as Cathy Dollanganger in this “Flowers in the Attic” (review here) follow-up. Ten years have passed since the surviving Dollanganger children escaped the confines of Foxworth Hall’s attic. They didn’t make it to Florida as planned though, instead ending up in the care of a well to do South Carolina man, whose passing separates the siblings onto uniquely tragic paths into young adulthood.
An aspiring ballerina, Cathy skitters off to New York with her dance instructor’s son, whose combination of open-shirted Englishman exoticness and overbearing abusiveness makes him the perfect bad boy beau to keep Cathy’s love life ensconced in chaos. This doesn’t sit too well with Cathy’s brother Chris, of course. Despite Cathy’s insistence that giving in to their forbidden urges is all kinds of wrong, brother and sister cannot help but paw each other lustfully whenever they make an effort to call off their secret romance.
Working his way through med school, Chris charms the Southern belle daughter of his M.D. instructor without even trying, not that it is difficult to do when she has less character depth than a kitchen countertop. Carrie eventually ends up in a relationship with a minister, although she has to suffer through some dull by comparison bullying from her prep school classmates first.
All roads lead back to Foxworth Hall in the end. Wicked birthmother Corrine makes the most of old Olivia’s stroke by keeping grandma bedridden while she socializes about high society, renovates their gothic mansion, and enjoys a seemingly storied marriage with new husband Bart Winslow. And it isn’t terribly long, by runtime standards, before all of the various machinations and manipulations collide in one doozy of a fiery family reunion.
Scattered amongst all of the above, “Petals in the Wind” sprinkles in catty schoolgirls, cattier ballerinas, murder, manslaughter, suicide, baby births, a funeral, two aborted weddings, and plenty of sordid sexual escapades. Cathy is the busiest of everyone, finding time to get it on with three different men, and bearing children with two of them.
“Petals on the Wind” features so much soapy madness that it cannot adequately keep up with its varied threads. So forced is the film to condense timelines and to jump around that heavy audience participation is required to fill in the blanks along the way. The film either assumes its audience knows the basic beats from the book series, or is comfortable leaving everyone to their own devices in following along.
For instance, the amount of screen time that passes from when Carrie first spies her future paramour while singing in a church choir to the time he proposes marriage is just over four minutes. One of those minutes does not even include the couple. It is a whirlwind romance to say the least, but par for the course in how quickly “Petals in the Wind” clips along to cover all the material it needs to.
There is a telltale misbalance in how the runtime is appropriated across the individual subplots. Determined to be overtly sexy (or smutty depending on your POV) before being anything else, the telefilm includes lingering scenes of sweaty bulges in ballet tights and middle school sex ed films when key reveals of two different dead bodies fade to black before the eye can even fully take in the image. The viewer has to will him/herself to find things like Cathy’s romance convincing when she is off to a ballet troupe in New York after just one onscreen date with the star performer, because the movie doesn’t pause to make anything believable through the script.
Not that “Petals on the Wind” can be taken seriously anyway. This is the type of movie where funeral attendees daintily dab at mourning tears with lace handkerchiefs pinched by gloved hands. And a party of shocked cocktail dinner attendees is treated to one deliciously spiteful revelation after another, culminating in a dramatic pause punctuated by Rose McIver announcing, “I’m pregnant with his child” while wearing a completely straight face. Normally, this is a scene only a satirist would conceive of when poking fun at stereotypical soap opera clichés.
Such moments never take place in real life, which is precisely why “Petals in the Wind” satisfies as the textbook definition of “guilty pleasure” entertainment. Real world Christmas parties mainly consist of recipe swapping, family photograph sharing, and checking social media on a cell phone to see if anything more interesting deserves any attention. Wouldn’t it be more fun if our mundane holiday get-togethers instead ended in accusations of murder, marital infidelity, and spontaneous announcements of out-of-wedlock pregnancies before the entire building suddenly exploded in a burst of flames?
That is how a movie like “Petals in the Wind,” rushed to meet a premiere date just six months after that of its predecessor, renders things like sensible storylines, reasonable pacing, convincing green screen effects, and carefully measured performances (all of which “Petals on the Wind” does not have) as completely moot points. With acting dialed right into a very precise line between “Knots Landing”-like seriousness and straight-up camp, “Petals on the Wind” concentrates first and foremast on being exactly what it intends to be from the word go: unashamedly trashy. Which is exactly what its audience wants the Dollanganger saga to be, too.
Review Score: 70