review for Wildflower on AllMovie

Wildflower (1991)
by Derek Armstrong review

It's not being too hard on Diane Keaton's Wildflower to call it the prototypical Lifetime flick. Comedians have come up with a pretty good definition of what that entails, and the story of a partly deaf epileptic locked in a shed by her wicked stepfather, then freed and educated by a neighborhood brother and sister, would certainly qualify. Adversity and uplift are fine ingredients for a chick-flick message movie, and at the time it aired in 1991, this kind of film might have helped cement the essential traits of the Lifetime channel, rather than purely being a byproduct of them. But it still doesn't make it a very memorable achievement, especially for director Keaton, known for the smart indie roles she selects for herself. What she does have going for her are two energetic young actresses, the 15-year-old Reese Witherspoon and the 23-year-old Patricia Arquette. In one of her very first roles, Witherspoon provides a spunky and confident preview of her future, and Arquette does a very endearing prelingual victim. Both actresses steal the scene from whoever else shares it, maybe because those folks are pretty ho-hum: Beau Bridges as a widower rehabilitating himself into a loving father, and William McNamara as a bland love interest for Arquette's Alice. Though that relationship is handled with decent complexity, much of the rest of the story is pretty black and white, especially the evil stepfather character. As played by Norman "Max" Maxwell, Ormand Guthrie is so over-the-top despicable, it's impossible to take him seriously. This not only cripples the viewer's investment in the central conflict, but it gives ammunition to any critic who seems mean for picking on such a well-intentioned film.