Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: "Flower"

Zoey Deutsch gives a colorful, vibrant and ultimately wasted performance in "Flower," a movie that keeps steering into thematic dead ends.

She plays Erica, a 17-year-old wasting her life in a nonstop party with her closest buds (Maya Eshet and Dylan Gelula) doing the usual teen stuff -- roaming malls, taking selfies, imbibing chemicals they oughtn't to. Typical acting out, you might say, except they finance their exploits by enticing men into receiving oral sex from Erica, documenting it and then blackmailing them for dough.

Erica certainly doesn't lack gumption; as the story opens, they are executing their latest scam on no less than a deputy sheriff (Eric Edelstein) in his patrol vehicle. The man's abject humiliation as he hands over the cash from the ATM and begs them not to put the video online almost makes us feel genuinely sorry for him.


Does luring their targets into scuzzy/criminal behavior absolve Erica and company from their own scuzzy/criminal behavior? That would be an interesting subject to explore, but unfortunately director Max Winkler and his co-screenwriters, Matt Spicer and Alex McAuley, always seem to turn away from the harder questions, preferring to focus on the vagaries of Erica's moods and outbursts.

Erica and her mom (Kathryn Hahn) think they have a good relationship -- one of those "we're just two semi-crazy girls trying to get by!" kinda things. But Erica is a taker, treating every interaction as a transaction in which she must come out ahead. She's upset because mom has taken up with a monstrously "uncool" guy, Bob (Tim Heidecker), moving into their physical and emotional space.

Her own dad is currently incarcerated for some kind of casino business, and we sense she's more her father's daughter than her mother's.

Things grow worse when Bob's 18-year-old son, Luke (Joey Morgan), is released after a year in rehab. Erica, who uses her sexuality as the coin of the realm, is hoping for a hot future stepbrother she can carry on a shocking affair with. But she's miffed when Luke turns out to be timid, socially paralyzed and, worst of all, fat.

Erica's idea of comforting Luke after a panic attack is to offer -- to insist, actually -- on giving him a blowjob. When he refuses, she insults him as being either gay or under-endowed. A real winner, this one.

Part of the film's failing is never providing us a wide enough opening into Erica's vulnerabilities, assuming she has any cracks at all.

Eventually, Erica and Luke warm up to each other a bit more, and Luke opens up about his harrowing journey. I don't want to give away too much, but suffice it to say that it involves Will (Adam Scott), the "old hot guy" -- he appears to be in this 30s -- who Erica and her friends have been crushing on while hanging out at the bowling alley where he plays in a league.

At least, we think they like him. In Erica's world, where nothing is taken at face value, you can never tell if something that falls out of her mouth is meant the way it seems. Often not even by Erica herself.

Things go from there. This movie is billed as a comedy/drama, but it's neither particularly funny or momentous. Even at a brisk 93 minutes, it often drags.

I enjoyed Deutsch's energy and Morgan's genuineness. I'd love to watch their two characters in almost any other story, to see how they'd fare.

It was also a bit interesting to see Scott, who's made his career playing earnest dweebs, get a meatier role. We're never quite certain about Will, whether he's really a disturbed individual or an unfairly maligned one. Erica vacillates between trying to entrap him and being authentically attracted to him.

The final act goes on a bit of a bender, which felt more like where the screenwriters wanted to take their story rather than where it organically would go. "Flower" is a story about a wild teen sexpot blowing past boundaries -- the sort of thing an all-male creative team dreams up and then doesn't know what to do with.

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