“A childhood few could survive…A triumph you’ll never forget” (maybe not)
Wildflower is a made-for-television film dating from 1991 and directed by Diane Keaton. It’s one of those stories set in rural America in the first half of the 20th century, featuring the trials of a single-parent family including at least one precocious child as protagonist. Usually the family has to overcome poverty and ill treatment to survive. The twist here is that the family seems to be at least comfortably off, but is challenged instead by the need to help a mistreated youngster living on an adjacent farm. The villain of the piece is that youngster’s father. It only takes about fifteen minutes to ascertain the direction the story will take and the likely outcome. Unfortunately, we have to sit through another hour and a quarter only to have our suspicions confirmed. It should be said that the film avoids one of the clichés of this type of story — there’s no lovable pet to keep the young protagonist company.
The film features quite an accomplished and interesting cast. Of principal interest is the appearance of a young Reese Witherspoon who handles the role of the precocious youngster, Ellie Perkins, very ably. She’s bright and energetic and gives the film most of its limited vitality. Her father, Jack Perkins, is amiably played by Beau Bridges, but he is let down by a script that doesn’t really develop his character well — the father’s transition from hard, angry taskmaster to benevolent parent is too abrupt to be completely believable. The mistreated youngster, Alice Guthrie, is nicely portrayed by Patricia Arquette and her gradual educational development as a hearing-impaired child feels realistic. Alice’s father, Ormond, is merely a black hat, however. We never learn why he hates his adopted family enough to mistreat them. He’s built up as a person to be feared (although he seldom seems to be around whenever Ellie and her brother sneak onto the Guthrie farm to see Alice). The climactic confrontation with him is developed with some suspense, but fizzles completely in the end. It’s as though the film makers wanted to create a G-rated film and didn’t want to risk showing unpleasantness to any degree that might jeopardize that objective.
Artisan’s DVD release is in accord with the film’s original full-frame aspect ratio. The transfer is crisp and clean, although the colours are perhaps a little bland as television movies sometimes tend to be. Edge effects are not an issue and flesh tones look realistic. On the whole, I give Artisan credit for a nice effort on the image transfer. The stereo sound is satisfactory for the dialogue-driven film, but really offers little to make it particularly memorable. Unfortunately, there is no subtitling provided, nor is any supplementary content offered. Some material on Diane Keaton’s role as the film’s director could have been included. The film is not her first foray into film direction, but some insight from her on this particular role would have been welcome since we associate her much more strongly with her acting work. I guess Artisan must have thought it was dealing with a film from its lesser Republic holdings since it delivers the sort of bare-bones treatment it usually reserves for them.
It’s easy to say nice things about a film that wants to say nice things about trust and the value of family, as Wildflower does. Unfortunately, such intentions can be compromised when effective narrative technique is overlooked. In such a case, even the best cast in the world is not enough.
The film is certainly innocuous enough for younger watchers, but any discerning viewer will be disappointed.