Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Movie Review: Flower

Flower ** / *****
Directed by: Max Winkler   
Written by: Alex McAulay and Matt Spicer and Max Winkler.
Starring: Zoey Deutch (Erica), Kathryn Hahn (Laurie), Adam Scott (Will), Dylan Gelula (Kala), Eric Edelstein (Dale), Tim Heidecker (Bob), Maya Eshet (Claudine), Joey Morgan (Luke), Romy Byrne (Alli Whitman), Jordan Campbell (Officer Lerma), Celestine (Cora).
Zoey Deutch is a movie star who is just waiting for the proper vehicle in which to showcase the obvious talent she has to the world in a way that makes that clear. Flower is not that movie, because it is a fundamentally flawed and offensive movie that never takes itself seriously enough to realize just what kind of poisonous, sociopathic character it is putting out into the world, And yet, even as I know this, I couldn’t help but love Deutch in the film – who fully embraces this weird, wacky character and plays it to the hilt, just like the filmmakers want her to. It’s not her fault that the screenwriters don’t take her character seriously enough to see her for who she really is – nor is it her fault that the last act flies off the rails (or would if the movie were ever on the rails to begin with) and turns what they could have at least argued up to that point was a film about female empowerment (they wouldn’t be right, but they could claim it anyway) into a misogynistic mess. I wanted to hate Flower, but Deutch is so charming, has such great comic chops, that I found myself enjoying her performance in spite of the rest of the film.
The film opens with the 17-year-old Erica (Deutch) giving a blowjob to an on-duty cop in his patrol car – just the latest guy to fall victim to the scheme of her and her friends blackmail plans – her two friends film her, and the use the video to get money out of the men. I say victim in only the loosest sense of the word – they are of course men willingly paying a 17 year old to blow them, so how much of a victim can they really claim to be. This, of course, is Erica’s vision of them as well – as creeps and perverts who deserve what they get. Although later, Erica will also claim that she likes “sucking dick”, and draws a line between that and sleeping with men – which she never does. You would think that a teenage girl who does this would have some darkness in her – that she was damaged in some way – but the movie gives no hint of that, other than some daddy issues, because her dad is currently in jail – the blowjob money is being saved up for his bail. Erica is a sociopath, but it doesn’t look like anyone associated with the movie understands that.
Anyway, the plot of the movie basically kicks off when Erica’s future stepbrother, Luke (Joey Morgan) gets out of rehab, and moves with Erica, her mother Laurie (Kathryn Hahn) and her fiancé Bob (Tim Heidecker). Luke is overweight and getting out of rehab for drug addiction. He is also painfully shy and prone to panic attacks. He doesn’t even take Erica up on her offer of a feel better blowjob. He says all of his problems stem from being molested by a former teacher, Will (Adam Scott) – who Erica knows as hot old guy at the bowling alley she’s always hanging out in. Erica becomes determined to get even with Will, which becomes awkward because she is also clearly besotted with him as well.
The movie is a mess in terms of its plot, which the filmmakers try to tie altogether in the last act of the film, which of course, is the messiest of them all. The film ends up being another Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy film, but this time, a stealth one because the filmmakers don’t work hard at showing their hand earlier in the film. It concentrates on the Manic Pixie Dream girl this time, to try and fool you it’s really about female empowerment, but the last act make clear its just more male wish fulfillment (one of the final revelations Erica makes to Luke is particularly egregious, and betrays the more puritan attitudes of the filmmakers, that they were clearly trying to hide). In the final scene, they simply toss out a few lines of dialogue to try and tie everything up in a nice, happy bow.
I can see a way in which a film like Flower could work – a film that would be truly disturbing, and would be worthy of the performance Deutch gives here (to be fair, most of the performances here are quite good – the actors do their best with them anyway). But that would a much darker, more self-aware film – something like last year’s Ingrid Goes West, with Aubrey Plaza as a stalker for the social media age. But Flower somehow thinks itself is a buoyant teen comedy, which is somehow more disturbing – but not in a deliberate way. Flower should be one of the worst films of the year – perhaps it is. But Deutch is so good in the film, I really had fun watching the film, even if by the end, I felt I needed a shower.

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