FLOWER Review: A Scattershot Misunderstanding Of Teenage Womanhood

Even a dark comedy has to tell a damn joke every now and then.

There are sometimes films that are quite baffling for their existence. Even when competently made and well-performed, there's something absolutely bizarre about seeing a script so completely not self-aware of its problems produced with capable funding and without the foresight to ask how this story was going to come across. Flower is such a strange, frustrating, infuriating little film, and it all comes down to a script that aims for dark comedy but instead comes up despicably crass and tone-deaf.

Flower opens on our seventeen-year-old lead Erica (Zoey Deutch) giving a blowjob to a police officer, for which she and her friends then extort money from him. Erica has apparently made a habit of this, not only for the love of sucking dick—which she proudly proclaims with a journal filled with drawings of every phallus she's ever blown—but so that she can save enough money to bail her father out of jail. However, Erica's life is… somewhat altered, I suppose, by the appearance of a new stepbrother, Luke (Joey Morgan), fresh out of rehab and reasonably wary of his new sister's near-immediate offer to blow him. When Erica discovers that Luke had once exposed the hot older guy who hangs out at the bowling alley (Adam Scott) for molesting him, Erica hatches a scheme to seduce the pedophile to exact revenge on Luke's behalf. What Erica isn't counting on is that she may actually develop feelings for this older man in the process.

There's a lot going on there, and the amount of set-up the film has to get through while maintaining its forced, laid back tone makes the film very unfocused for approximately the first hour of its ninety minute total. Not knowing where a story is going is one thing, but it's entirely another to have characters so devoid of ethos and drive that there seems to be no point to anything you're witnessing. Flower is aiming for character-driven dark comedy territory, but the closest it comes to having any jokes is Tim Heidecker refitting his anarchic anti-style into an uncool stepdad archetype. Every character is unlikeable and unfunny, and the film desperately needs one of those elements to be present for its spiraling machinations to either make us care about its characters or make us laugh at them. As is, the story has such vicious disdain for its lead that it's hard to care about any sort of end she may come to.

See, Erica is feminine teenage adolescence as only three men (Alex McAulay, Matt Spicer, and director Max Winkler) could conceive. She is sex-obsessed, not as an exploration of her own wants and desires, but as a matter-of-fact expression of her willfully acknowledged daddy issues and need for male influence. She's ill-mannered and reckless in ways that are meant to be endearing, but she is only ever shown to be irresponsible in ways that don't inform any character growth. By the film's end, she supplants one Electra complex for another, and in the process the film goes out of its way to make light of suicide, point out the supposed unreliability of sexual assault survivors' narratives, and realize a moment of clarity through vaginal sex as if blowjobs are exempt from the arbitrary rules of virginity. Erica is a character designed to be somewhat insufferable, but she exists in a world that mirrors her insufferability, so we are given neither the perspective to see her arc as an indicator of positive growth or as a tragic cautionary tale.

Flower is desperately trying for satirical perspective on a life of which it has no direct understanding. Erica is a character defined entirely by her teenage sexuality, and her world is a reaction for or against that sexuality, reducing her to the object of sexual desire she sells herself as. The depths she eventually reveals have only to relate once again to her value as a sex object, and though the film really wants you to laugh at the absurdity of its lengths, it instead reinforces just how cruel the writers' concept of teenage womanhood is. Though more willfully ignorant than the Heathers reboot's explicit attacks on youth culture, Flower falls into that same camp as a glossy pastiche of teenage coming-of-age that shows complete contempt for its subject.