I have been wanting to see Max Winkler’s directorial debut since its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last April. In the past, I have attended the Tribeca Film Festival but now that I live in Los Angeles, it makes picking and choosing what festivals to attend a bit trickier due to the cost of travel. Needless to say, I couldn’t attend the festival but have been waiting patiently to see Flower for almost a year now.
Flower is a quirky coming of age film that blurs the lines of genre. Winkler’s film can’t be labeled as one specific type of film but instead a unique mixture of a dark comedy, mystery, thriller, and drama. The film’s plot is centered on 17-year old Erica (Zoey Deutch) whose home life is rocky at best. Her father is in jail and her mother Laurie (Kathryn Hahn) keeps dating men who she doesn’t approve of or like. Determined to get her father out of jail, Erica blackmails several older men in her town by secretly videotaping them while engaging in oral sex. Erica spends most of her free time doing this and hopes by doing so; she can quickly save up the money that she needs to bail her father out of jail.
However, things get even more interesting when her mother’s latest boyfriend Bob (Tim Heidecker) reveals that his son Luke (Joey Morgan) has just been released from rehab. Luke suffers not only from depression and panic attacks but was molested by one of his teachers when he was younger. The teacher in question just so happens to be Will (Adam Scott), the hot older guy that Erica and her friends drool over while hanging out at their local bowling alley. Feeling a new sense purpose, Erica takes matters into her own hands and begins to develop a plan to get Will back for taking advantage of an underaged student.
Flower is a complicated little film that will more than likely receive mixed reviews due to its difficult subject matter, bold storytelling, and darkly comedic wit and dialogue. This is a film that embraces and in some ways analyzes and criticizes the youth of today. Flower is a film about millennials and might be difficult for those over the age of 35 to understand and appreciate. This is a story about sexual discovery. If you talk to a lot of teenagers nowadays, oral sex isn’t anything special. It is commonly viewed as a social activity that a lot of teenagers partake in. I have heard a lot of things from my younger brothers about how teenagers don’t even consider a blowjob to be sex at all. Winkler explores those concepts in this film as Erica seems to be open to giving just about anyone she crosses paths with a blowjob. The film even opens up on Erica giving a local cop oral sex so there is no hiding the type of film this going to be right from the start.
As the film progresses, we as audience members begin to learn more about Erica and how the absence of her father has impacted her life. Erica realizes and admits that she has daddy issues. She’s reckless, carefree, and a little self-absorbed. Erica openly admits that she doesn’t view a blowjob as sex in a scene where she offers Luke one only a few hours after meeting him. I personally loved the raw honesty in these scenes, and while some may be shocked by how unfiltered the dialogue may seem, to me it all felt rather truthful to the way that the youth of today behave and act.
For a film that had been completed almost an entire year ago, Flower feels so incredibly timely to what is going on in the world today. Erica, while offering older men sexual favors, is still underage and the film highlights how multiple older men are so willing to take advantage of that. I think it was a bold choice to highlight men who are authority figures. We know that Erica does this often but only a cop and a teacher are shown.
Zoey Deutch continues to blossom as an actress. Deutch embraces and understands her character and delivers a performance that is nothing short of remarkable. As Erica, she demonstrates that she can play a complicated character that is multilayered and multifaceted. Deutch has no problem whatsoever showcasing her range as an actress. She is charming, sexy, comedic, witty, manipulative, and dramatic. Deutch somehow manages to find a perfect balance of all these character traits and as a result, delivers one of her best performances to date. Between her performance in this film as well as 2017’s Before I Fall, I cannot believe that Deutch has yet to become a bigger star in Hollywood.
Another quality about Deutch that makes her performance so standout is her ability to work alongside various actors and actresses and making them shine brighter. Deutch’s chemistry with Joey Morgan is spot on. I don’t want to spoil what happens in the film, but when I first saw Joey Morgan in the role of Luke, I felt uncertain that he would be a good fit but sure enough, Morgan and Deutch are charming together. The same can be said about Adam Scott who I thought was an odd choice for the role but again proved me wrong.
I love Kathryn Hahn and think she’s a fantastic actress who can go from comedic to dramatic with such ease. She isn’t in the film all that much, but I wanted to bring her up because there is a great scene where her character Laurie, her boyfriend Bob, and Erica all get into a heated arguable. The way that this scene plays out is chock full of raw emotion but also showcases how as a mother, Laurie has sacrificed her own life in as an attempt to make Erica happy. The scene is very powerful and emotional.
All in all, Flower is a bold, unpredictable, and unconventional dark comedy with a career-making performance by Zoey Deutch. Max Winkler’s directorial doesn’t hold back and clearly, isn’t afraid of being ballsy. While all films are subjective, I think Flower is a great conversation starter and one that does a great job of understanding and explaining today’s youth.