Juno meets Hard Candy in Max Winkler’s acerbic dark teen comedy Flower. Fueled by a filthy mouth and a warped sense of justice, this edgy femme fatale misadventure sees a brassy pixie named Erica attempt to make right of the turmoil life has forced upon her, employing devious measures to get what she wants with a little help from her friends. Primed to push your buttons, Flower is sure to send those with any sexual or language sensitives running for the theaters doors (and is just about the last thing you’d want to watch with your teenage daughter or future mother-in-law) but as far as spitfire coming-of-age stories overloaded with prima donna bite, Winkler delivers the goods without respite.
Entrapping older men to raise bail money for her daddy, Erica isn’t your average teenager. The self-described “dick whisperer” sees no qualms in blackmailing the revolving door of amoral Johns who she’s known to seduce at the local laundromat, bowling alley or wherever else horny middle-aged men linger. One dose of oral stimulation and a hidden candid camera later and Erica and accomplices Claudine (Maya Eshet) and Kala (Dylan Gelula) now also have their victim by the metaphorical balls, balefully withdrawing their life savings from the nearest ATM. With a “just” cause motivating her, Erica counts down the dicks left to fulfill before she can raise the funds to jump her (allegedly wrongly) incarcerated pops from the clink. Let’s stop here for a moment. If the above paragraph offended your strong moral fortitude, Flowers is not the movie for you. If the thought of the hero of the film slugging down man-juice for a payday doesn’t fly for your staunchly robust ethical code, Flowers is not the movie for you. If an accidental murder or lying to the law or offering a BJ to a bummed out kid or snapping naked pics with a drugged and bound suspect…if any of that doesn’t sound up your alley, Flowers is not the movie for you.
Flowers is crude. It’s cavalier. It’s insensitive – especially when it makes light of young boys being diddled. But it’s also full of warmth and unexpected heart. Winkler’s film genuinely cherishes these characters and never debases them for the things they do and the sketchy decisions they make. It seeks to understand what motivates them and put them in morally ambiguous situations devoid of easy solutions. Sure the script can clunk about in sections but the bright, unwavering performances keep the ship humming.
The best thing about Flowers, bar none, is Zoey Deutch, who steals the show as the spunky, blasphemous Erica. There’s certainly shades of early Ellen Page (particularly her no-holds-barred take as the jive-talking Juno) delivered here but Deutch taps into a whole other level, turning what could have been a crusty, profane character into a misunderstood but deeply felt protagonist. Deutch makes you root for the wounded Erica. Deeply. You love her for her flaws, rather than in spite of them. I mean, who wouldn’t love a girl who names her pet rat “Titty”?
When her unfortunate-looking stepbrother Luke (Joey Morgan) gets out of rehab to join the family, Erica careens headfirst into a series of unfortunate events that pits her and her friends against maybe-alleged-child-molester/still-totally-a-hottie Will (Adam Scott). The result is messy, with hints of Bonnie and Clyde and Thelma and Louise and the (totally awesome) Netflix show The End of the Fucking World, and bungles some of the big moments with iffy moralizing but the able relationships built between these characters and the underlying emotional core keep it not only running but sprinting in sassy, almost magical fashion.
The supporting cast is strong, with Kathryn Hahn, in particular, excelling as Erica’s low-maintenance “I’m on your level” mom. There’s a natural chemistry and warmth shared between Hahn and Deutch that helps keep the off-kilter family unit afloat as they run aground treacherous territory and although the ugly circumstances may not be so similar, many should be able to relate to the challenging single-mother-daughter relationship displayed here. But when you get down to it and wipe away all the trash talk and dirty deeds, Flowers reveals a heartfelt center with almost virginal purity that speaks to second chances and family hardship and never judging a book, porno or not, by its cover. And that’s something to shake a stick at.
CONCLUSION: Max Winkler’s dirty-minded ‘Flowers’ is rude and sweet and offputting and bitterly funny – while featuring an absolutely star-making turn from Zoey Deutch – though it’s got enough narrative quirk to keep you from craving sloppy seconds.