Deutch’s Brazen Excellence Allows Flower to Emotionally Blossom
Erica (Zoey Deutch) and her best friends Kala (Dylan Gelula) and Claudine (Maya Eshet) have an unusual way of making extra cash. The 17-year-old high school seniors blackmail older gentlemen, men like local police officer Dale (Eric Edelstein), by recording them receiving fellatio from one of the underage trio. But where Kala and Claudine are pretty loose with the ill-gotten gains, Erica is obsessively saving to come up with the $15,000 needed to bail her casino-robbing father out of jail. She’s willing to do just about anything to reach her goal, not really caring if the other kids at school start calling her “slut” when word of her oral sex prowess starts to get around.
Things get a little weirder than normal for the teenager when her mom Laurie (Kathryn Hahn) has her current boyfriend Bob (Tim Heidecker) move in with them. They get even stranger when they go pick up his overweight, quietly intense son Luke (Joey Morgan) out of rehab. While at first Erica would like to stay as far away from the slightly older boy as possible, her curiosity about what happened to him in the past that helped steer him down such a dark road ultimately gets the better of her. Putting the pieces together, she figures out that Luke’s issues all lead back to the mysterious Will (Adam Scott), a sexy loner all three girls have expressed being attracted to and who just so happens to frequent the local bowling alley they all utilize as their primary hangout.
The first half of direct Max Winkler’s (Ceremony) ribald, fearlessly amoral teen comedy/drama Flower is absolutely fantastic. Working from a script he co-wrote with Alex McAulay and Matt Spicer (Ingrid Goes West), Winkler showcases a brazen ferocity that’s reminiscent of 1980’s classic Heathers, the foul-mouthed blasé naturalism of the majority of what is being said and done startling throughout. But it also showcases a sensitivity and a warmth that frequently caught me by surprise, the tender kindliness that Erica occasionally displays movingly authentic.
It’s possible the best bits are every single scene between Deutch and Hahn. If these two made a side career of telling mother-daughter tales once every couple of years I guarantee I’d be first in line to give each those films an immediate look. Their easygoing back-and-forth is dazzling, and whether they’re affectionately asking one another about their plans for their respective day or angrily lashing out because they fail to see eye-to-eye on even the most mundane of topics, the rip-roaring rapid-fire verbal pyrotechnics they engage in is consistently stupendous.
Stupendous. That’s an adjective that also applies to Deutch’s mesmerizing performance. Much like she did with the similarly uneven (if still engaging) teenage Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls variation Before I Fall, the young actress delivers a performance of such stunning, unexpected breadth and emotional expressiveness I doubt I could have taken my eyes off of her even if I had wanted to. She discovers recesses inside Erica that are prickly yet still accessible, cantankerous yet also affectionate, the tenderness the young woman can exude bellied by a bellicose self-righteousness that from a lesser actor would have been insufferable. Deutch burns up the screen in ways that are so passionately multifaceted I was dumbstruck by all of the emotional nuances she was able to mine with such aggressively calming ease.
There is a point in the film where things take a decided left turn, and while I honestly appreciate that the script is so willing to go dangle out on a ledge with such gleeful exuberance, I’m not sure there’s enough time for the elements at play to metastasize and coalesce into something meaningful. It all happens so quickly, and for some reason Winkler seems equally driven to wrap this unexpected turn into the murderously surreal as fast as he can. The emotional connection that I felt like I was sharing with both Erica and Luke isn’t so much shattered as it is put on instant hold, my feelings as twisted and as messy as the events that send the pair on an impromptu road trip only Thelma Yvonne Dickinson and Louise Elizabeth Sawyer (a.k.a. Thelma & Louise) could relate to on first glance.
Thankfully, the chemistry between Deutch and Morgan is so strong it manages to transcend the narrative whiplash that transpires during the climactic act. More than that, there’s something about what Winkler and his team attempt to do during this sequence that still has me thinking about it with increasing specificity. While I don’t think there’s enough room for these moments to fully develop, it’s still a pretty gutsy way to shake things up, and for a film overflowing with so many bawdy twists and turns this is one aggressively vicious curveball that, while I can’t say came entirely by surprise, is still rather shocking when taken in context with the bigger, overarching picture.
But it’s Deutch that has me most excited. She’s so phenomenal here that I’ll watch Flower multiple times just so I can dissect her performance in more exacting detail after each viewing. Winkler wisely keeps her front and center, and whether it are scenes fleshing out Erica’s relationship with Laurie in eviscerating detail, moments with her and Will craftily figuring one another out or the teenager coming to realize there’s more to Luke than initially meets the eye, Deutch can’t do a single thing wrong as she grabs the audience by the throat and forces them to join her on this journey. Make no mistake, this is the best performance I’ve seen in 2018 so far, and come the end of the year this is one acting tour de force I’m positive I’ll still be waxing poetic about with zealous fervor.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)