One of the things I noticed immediately when scanning the credits for director/co-writer Max Winkler’s (Ceremony) latest work, Flower, is that it’s executive produced by David Gordon Green, Jody Hill, and Danny McBride. That instantly clued me in that this particular variety of flower was not going to be a shrinking violet.
In fact, Flower is an aggressively dark comedy about 17-year-old Erica (Zoey Deutch of Why Him? and Before I Fall) living in the San Fernando Valley with her eager-to-please mother Laurie (Kathryn Hahn) and her wet rag of a boyfriend Bob (Tim Heidecker). For Erica, life has become a constant battle to avoid boredom, even if that means getting into a whole lot of trouble.
As the film opens, she and her two best friends (Dylan Gelula and Maya Eshet) are running a blackmailing scheme on a local cop. Erica puts them in sexually compromising positions and the friends film it, demanding money or the footage goes up on the internet. It turns out Erica is saving all of her earnings (yes, they’ve done this more than once) to help bail her father out of jail. For reasons unknown, she worships the guy (whom we never see) and thinks that his coming back in her life will solve most of her issues.
While she’s waiting for that to happen, Bob’s unstable son Luke (Joey Morgan) is released from rehab and moves in with this makeshift family, further aggravating Erica until she recognizes in him a fellow angst-ridden teenager looking for ways to lash out at parents, teachers, authority figures, and anyone who gives them shit.
Joey reveals that he was groped by a teacher when he was younger, and after a freak-out moment in front of Erica at the local bowling alley, she figures out that Joey saw the teacher again in public. It turns out that the alleged perpetrator was Will (Adam Scott), who was cleared of the charges and who Erica just happened to have a crush on before Joey entered her life. Naturally, the pair (plus Erica’s friends) devise a scheme to frame Will for trying to have sex with another underage person (this time Erica) and blackmail him for the remaining money she needs to spring her father.
Flower pulls emotional and comedy cues from John Hughes and early Cameron Crowe high school comedies, but filters it through some fairly twisted eyes. Along with co-writers Alex McAulay and Matt Spicer (who made last years Ingrid Goes West) Winkler has reworked an un-produced script by Alex McAulay and transformed it into the perfect vehicle for Deutch, who explodes off the screen in a performance that is partly terrifying, partly fearless and completely captivating.
The film’s final act takes more than one unexpected turn, giving Erica a chance to drop the nothing-phases-me mask and reveal something more vulnerable and sympathetic. Flower is a film that sneaks up on you with its ability to make you laugh and power to make you feel something for these sometimes tough-to-like characters. That’s a particularly impressive achievement in a teen comedy.
Over opening weekend, Flower director/co-writer Max Winkler and star Zoey Deutch will be in and around Chicago for a series of Q&As. On Friday, March 23, the pair will be at the Landmark Century Center Cinema after the 7:35pm showing (with filmmaker Joe Swanberg moderating), and the Cinemark Evanston 18 after the 10:15pm show. On Saturday, March 24, Winkler and Deutch will be back at the Landmark after the 5pm screening, and at the AMC River East following the 7pm show.