Director Max Winkler’s Flower attempts a coming of age to make John Waters proud, and comes up a good deal off the mark. The film stars an effervescent Zoey Deutch as Erica, a teenage miscreant to spend time with her friends trapping middle aged perverts into emptying their bank accounts after sexual entrapment. Her mother (played by the ever delightful Kathryn Hahn) has invited her newest suitor to live with them, and with him comes Erica’s would-be step-brother: a fresh-out-of-rehab, panic-attack-stricken overweight quiet guy named Luke (Joey Morgan).
Erica’s pursuits and their psuedo-enlightened reclaiming of power are wisely handled as nonchalantly as our hero pursues them, lending the film a slight undercurrent of coming responsibility that it eventually subverts. Her impulses get a more personal playground when she and her friends set their aims on the former teacher Luke claims molested him, played by the mutable Adam Scott. Imagine Juno slapping you and taking some bath salts before dispensing of about half of its sentimentality, and then being performatively super chill about it.
More consistently witty than outright funny, Flower has a mostly relaxed vibe that allows Deutch to shine. But this film is better when it is taking a more laid back narrative approach, one it tosses out the window like a teenager in a tantrum.
Flower is amiably profane and cheerfully subversive in its first half, creating a character study that’s gracious to the most troublesome aspects of its hero’s naivete. But Alex McAulay, Matt Spicer, and Winkler’s screenplay takes a late turn too outlandish for its plain-faced delivery, the film somersaults away from its well-built goodwill. It’s a step too far and of too much consequence for the movie to bear, certainly without a full dive into the kind of stylistic and formative perverse waters its too timid to do more than flirt with. Ultimately, like the bad kid at its center, the film isn’t as intelligent with its transgressions as it thinks it is.
Despite the film’s modest interest in painting Erica as little more than a listless and sad teenage malcontent, it does provide a showcase for the richly talented and engaging Zoey Deutch. The young actress has been a standout in Everybody Wants Some and Before I Fall, lending a pathos and warmth that you only want to see more of. Here gets to be more barbrous and show off some real comic smarts, perhaps even elevating the dimensions of her character from what is on the page. The film has her to thank for most of its nuance, not to mention its refreshingly odd sweetness. Once the actress is gifted with a role that matches her promise, expect a major arrival.