At the heart of co-writer/ director Max Winkler’s coming-of-age dark comedy FLOWER stands an unapologetic, unorthodox teen protagonist. She’s like SIXTEEN CANDLES’ “Samantha Baker” if that John Hughesian heroine gave zero f*cks. Her headstrong nature assuredly contrasts Hollywood’s cookie-cutter approach to “likeability,” but the punk-rock hellfire in which her clay was baked will slay audiences. Pitch black humor combusts like fireworks in this refreshing, ribald, raucous tale.
Seventeen-year-old Erica (Zoey Deutch) is on a bit of rebellious, self-destructive tear. She’s deeply into challenging societies’ gender norms – mainly its views on a young woman’s sexuality. She and friends Kala (Dylan Gelula) and Claudine (Maya Eshet) have cooked up a get rich quick scheme to blackmail local older men for spending money. Erica’s confidence, strong will and wildly defiant personality also steer her more peer-than-parent relationship with free-spirited, supportive mother Laurie (Kathryn Hahn), who’s oblivious to Erica’s current plan. However, when Erica is introduced to her painfully shy future stepbrother Luke (Joey Morgan), who’s just come out of rehab, her world is turned upside down. The pair conspire to take down a teacher (Adam Scott), who’s hiding a dark secret.
Winkler, along with fellow co-writers Alex McAuley and Matt Spicer, has created a bold, daring, outrageously feminist character in Erica. The film never professes she’s doing things correctly, nor exploits her in any way (through her wardrobe or whatnot), but it does take great care in making sure she’s fully in charge of her sexuality at all times. Her arc intertwines with Luke’s in a fascinating manner. These two characters have little in common (he’s an introvert and she’s clearly an extrovert poorly covering up her introverted side), yet they share common ground when it comes to helping people outside their own needs. They’ve both done bad things with good intentions. It speaks to the altruism within all of us, posing a morally complicated scenario that questions if we would compromise our integrity for the betterment of someone else. That’s the human, grounded connection that makes these people realistic.
Tonal shifts also play a major part in the success of the narrative. The filmmakers are able to find a precise balance between the lighter elements in the first half with the darker shades brought forth in the second half. While it’s a razor sharp turn, audiences will be able to lean into the curve.
The performances breathe life into the material. Deutch has never been better. She’s absolutely incandescent. She’s got gumption and an innate comedic timing that’s wildly appealing. Her work alongside Hahn, who I believe is the Lucille Ball of our time, excels even further. Their scenes together are a master class on acting. They bring out both the comedic and dramatic facets of this problematic mother-daughter relationship – and they do so with such tenderness, vulnerability and raw truth. It’s also good to see Tim Heidecker, as Luke’s overbearing, concerned father, play against type as a normal, loveable guy – someone we’ve never seen before.
Though FLOWER might not be for everyone, for the people who really connect with it, this is the type of cult classic that will blossom and endure.
FLOWER is now playing in Los Angeles and New York. It opens nationwide on March 23.