Published Mar 13, 2018If sexual misconduct with minors seems like appropriate fodder for a raunchy teen comedy, then Flower is the movie for you. It begins with a scene in which 17-year-old Erica (Zoey Deutch) fellates a cop for money, blackmails him, and then spends most of the cash during a tacky music montage at the mall. It's an uncomfortable opening that will have audiences squirming with its ugly moral ambiguities, but instead of deeper exploration, we get teenagers checking out hot dudes and making shock-value quips like, "I'd fuck your dad so hard if that was your dad." Ugh.
It's a wildly off-putting beginning that the movie never makes up for, even as director Max Winkler gradually develops the story into the gritty family drama it should have been from the start. Early on, Flower introduces two separate storylines about adults abusing minors: there's Erica and her plan to earn money by entrapping deviant older men, and there's her future-stepbrother Luke (Joey Morgan) with a backstory about accusing a teacher of abuse years prior. Mostly, this is all just an excuse for Erica and her friends to be ever so hip and irreverent, and the whole thing is soaked in sepia-toned suburban nostalgia like a mean-spirited Juno.
Really, there's nothing cute or quirky about an underage kid who keeps a penis sketchbook of all the adults she blackmails, but this film seems to be trying to convince us otherwise. Talented cast members Adam Scott (playing an accused predator) and Tim Heidecker (as Luke's dad) are under-utilized and never get a chance to give the themes the gravitas they deserve.
In the final act, the film takes a sudden tonal shift, transforming into a tale of teen runaways that's damn near identical to the far-superior Netflix series The End of the F***ing World. It's a relief to see the characters finally suffering consequences for their reckless behaviour, even if this part of the plot hinges on some implausible leaps of logic. Maybe if Flower had taken its own subject matter a little more seriously from the start, it could have been an insightful tragedy rather than a tone-deaf black comedy. (Rough House Pictures)