Actress Diane Keaton directs her first TV movie with Wildflower, and she manages to turn what amounts to an episode of The Waltons into something worth seeing. The movie is set in the ’30s in rural Georgia;the wildflower of the title is Alice (Patricia Arquette), an adolescent girl whose father (Norman ”Max” Maxwell) keeps her locked in a shed — he thinks she’s possessed by the devil. Alice is discovered by Ellie Perkins (Reese Witherspoon) and her brother Sammy (William McNamara), who befriend Alice and teach her to read.
Ellie and Sammy’s home life is better than Alice’s, but not much: Their mother has died recently, and their father, played by Beau Bridges, grieves by drinking heavily and yelling that Sammy isn’t going to use his college scholarship because ”no son o’ mine is takin’ a handout.” Rescuing Alice from her misery, however, brings the Perkins family together.
As she proved with her 1987 documentary Heaven, a series of interviews and old movie clips on the subject, Keaton is fond of stylistic eccentricity, and in Wildflower she has a tendency toward arty angles and slow motion. The whole movie has a burnished brown glow that I haven’t seen since Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller turned the look into a cliche. But Keaton shoots Arquette in luminous close-ups that convey her beauty as well as her oddness (it turns out that her character is both epileptic and hard of hearing). There’s not much Keaton can do with Bridges’ grumpy-dad part, but she gets fresh, quirky performances out of all the young actors. B