I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Jared McMillan // Film Critic
From the outset, there’s something off about FLOWER, which centers on a 17-year old named Erica (Zoey Deutch), who is likable while being unlikable. Actually, that’s the perfect way to describe the movie: likable while being unlikable. That’s not to say that the characters are badly performed; the cast, especially Deutch, are so earnest in their roles that it almost lets the misguided tone of the movie off the hook.
FLOWER opens with Erica and her best friends Kala (Dylan Gelula) and Claudine (Maya Eshet) exacting blackmail on yet another pervert. Their routine/scheme is to catch guys as they’re receiving fellatio from Erica, and then blackmail them for money. They spend some for shopping, but the real reason is so Erica can raise her dad’s bail money. Meanwhile, her mom (Kathryn Hahn) is getting serious with her boyfriend Bob (Tim Heidecker), who has a son getting out of rehab.
Luke (Joey Morgan) was addicted to pills, and his anger/anxiety is front and center on his introduction. After trying to play nice with her possibly new stepbrother, Erica finds out that his issues stem from claims that he was molested by a former teacher (Adam Scott). This gets her to connect with Luke and therefore wants to help him get revenge. These actions will cause all involved to confront their issues while trying to become whole again.
Directed by Max Winkler (THE NEW GIRL) and co-written with Matt Spicer (INGRID GOES WEST) and Alex McAulay, there is a lot of good and bad going on as the movie progresses. Starting with the good, they do a great job of not holding back even though they are teenagers. There is independence, moral ambiguity, sexual freedom, and there is no need to apologize for it or water it down for easier viewing.
Also, as previously mentioned, the acting is very good, with tension brewing between the characters that is unleashed as Erica’s plan goes awry. Everyone is essentially “playing nice” as a defense mechanism; Erica can’t let go of her criminal father, her mother struggles with trying to keep up with her, Bob represses his anger because he doesn’t know how to adjust, and Luke is just trying to cope with the real world again.
The bad, however, can be summed up in one word: tone. The tone of a movie is a foundation for the audience to know how to react as characters quip, plot points are uncovered, etc. Winkler & Co. are trying to go for a dark comedy, and at some points, they succeed. But most of the time it feels completely forced. Whether it’s in certain plot points or characters’ reactions to certain moments, it slowly morphs to insincerity and an almost hollow feel. Erica and her friends are so glib that it makes them come off as idiots rather than naïve teenagers.
FLOWER feels like it could have been something of a cult classic, and here’s hoping it gets Zoey Deutch better acting gigs in the future. She’s that good. It’s just a shame that the material didn’t form cohesively, if at all. By the time the end approaches, it goes from dark comedy to serious to a teen romance and their story arcs go nowhere and hardly anyone suffers consequences in the long run. So yeah, it’s likable yet unlikable.
FLOWER opens in limited release on Friday (3/23) and will expand in the following weeks.
Check out Courtney Howard’s interview with filmmaker Max Winkler (click here).