“Nobody’s going anywhere until we see this guy molest somebody.”
It’s not often a film introduces its female teen protagonist in the final throes of fellating an officer of the law, but Erica’s (Zoey Deutch) a firm believer in doing what you like. Of course, she’s also after cash money, and with the aid of her two best friends, Kala (Dylan Gelula) and Claudine (Maya Eshet), they quickly blackmail the cop for the $400 in his checking account. Her friends are after spending money, but Erica’s saving with a specific goal in mind — she wants to bail her father out of jail.
Her already complicated life grows more so when her mom’s (Kathryn Hahn) current boyfriend (Tim Heidecker) brings his own teenage son into the home. Luke (Joey Morgan) is fresh out of rehab for a variety of offenses, and while the two teens are worlds apart — he’s shy, overweight, and prone to violent outbursts — a tentative bond develops between them when Erica discovers his problems began after he accused a teacher of fondling him. Will (Adam Scott) never faced charges due to lack of evidence, but he’s back in town now leading Erica to convince Luke and her friends that justice needs to be served.
The synopsis above doesn’t exactly suggest as much, but Flower is a very funny movie. Granted, much of the humor is dark, cruel, and unexpected, but it’s balanced so precariously against an atypical narrative and characters in real jeopardy that you’re not always sure if you should be laughing at all. Reigning overhead, though, and holding all of its unruly elements together, is a spectacularly affecting and ridiculously charismatic performance by Deutch.
She’s often the best part of a weak film (Dirty Grandpa, Why Him?), but even here she stands apart with an incredibly difficult character who would crumble in lesser hands. Erica gleefully walks a fine line between endearing and irritating — she’s clearly out of control and too smart for her own good, but she rises to the occasion quicker than the shmucks she’s been shaking down with her friends. Deutch projects a carefree energy and joy just barely masking a real sadness beneath, and when the film takes atypical turns she makes it impossible not to go along with her.
And good gravy are there some real doozies when it comes to unusual story turns. The ending comes too easy in its wrap up, but surprisingly, rather than feel unbelievable or unrealistic most of the film’s unexpected beats leave viewers questioning decades of conditioning by the more formulaic films we’re used to. Just because these things don’t happen in most movies doesn’t mean they can’t. Erica’s sexual antics — she’s blowing guys for cash while also scaring them straight with the threat of videotaped exposure — are made personal without an accusatory finger or need for a traumatic origin. A seemingly unlikely romantic relationship that builds may strike some as inappropriate or out of left field, but even a moment of reflection will leave most viewers realizing that the real world is filled with pairings that can only be explained by people being true to themselves.
Director/co-writer Max Winkler has a clear attraction to characters who face obstacles while maintaining a strong sense of identity — his underrated Ceremony casts Michael Angarano in a similar role as someone who captivates and irritates equally — but the script (co-written with Alex McAulay and Matt Spicer) affords some engaging opportunities in its supporting roles too. Hahn can do “loopy, carefree mother” in her sleep by now, but her character’s allowed to reach her limit here and Hahn is every bit as compelling. Heidecker leaves his confrontational humor style behind for a softer turn, and Scott stays equally serious with a role delivering a somewhat complicated character with just enough nuance.
Flower will have its detractors in part due to a lead character who refuses to conform to our expectations, but if you can accept Erica on her own terms the journey here will leave you delighted, disturbed, and sweetly affected. You’ll also be more than a little bit awed by the naturally electric beauty and charisma of Deutch’s performance. “What would Batman and Robin do if they saw Joker sticking his finger up little boy’s assholes?” she asks at one point, and it’s hard to imagine a more compelling call to arms.