With its uninspired architecture and complete dearth of any interesting, the San Fernando Valley requires its residents to reinvent themselves as articulate, compelling characters, where they are both master and the muse of their life stories. Erica, the quick-witted, yellow-haired protagonist of “Flower,” knows this truth all too well.
Erica’s spent less than two decades alive in the valley, but in that time, has utilized her silver-tongue to make up for her lack of a silver spoon. She’s the kind of teenage girl who would illicit head-shakes and “I’m not angry, I’m disappointed” remarks from parents and peers, but would immediately flip the bird when their backs were turned.
But “Flower” gives Erica ample opportunities to stretch her criminal muscles, turning this “Risky Business” narrative into a curious, thoughtful meditation on teenage fiefdom, the meandering line between accusations and actualizations, and, of course, lots and lots of blowjobs.
“Flower” focuses on Erica reluctantly adjusting to her new family situation. Her dad is behind bars and has been out of the picture for quite some time. The reason for his crime is allegedly a casino robbery, but Erica says this with lack of conviction that we never know if it’s wholly true.
Erica’s mom Laurie (Kathryn Hahn) seems emotionally stunted too, lounging in her bed and gushing about her new boyfriend as if Erica and Laurie were teenage sisters. But Laurie is firm that her lover Bob (Tim Heidecker) will be moving in with his troubled son Luke (Joey Morgan), whether Erica likes it or not.
When they first meet, Erica takes half-a-second to make note of Luke’s double chin, poking and prodding at the reserved young man with unbridled glee. But Luke becomes less of a pudgy punching bag and more of a torn teddy bear when he reveals what’s actually bothering him: Before he got sent away to rehab, Luke had been molested by a teacher.
From this point on, “Flower” cleverly but carefully navigates the touchy waters of sexual assault, accusers and the accused, and the morality of a false allegation, even if the intentions were noble. We find ourselves doubting each of these characters and their supposedly sound backgrounds. Is Erica hypersexual because she’s a teenager, or because she too had been abused in her past? Is her dad in prison for robbing a casino like Erica said, or because he might have abused her in some way? And is Bob, who is as interesting as a ham sandwich, really a “nice guy,” or is does he have some malevolence stashed away deep in his pocket protector?
Answers to these questions aren’t ever fully stated. The questions themselves aren’t ever asked either, we’re just in a natural distrust of these characters, no matter how likable and well-crafted they may be. Erica is a superbly written character but its Zoey Deutch who brings her to life. With her sharp wit and intelligence, one can immediately imagine a frustrated guidance counselor yelling at the teen, chastising her for not living up to her full potential. Erica would give an eye roll, but only Deutch could roll that eye in such a way that her character still comes full-circle.
“Flower” is such an odd combo of tones and genres, with the dark sexual underbelly of the boring city evoking David Lynch films like “Blue Velvet,” but the romantic misadventures of Erica, Luke and friends hearkening more of “American Pie” or Jason Reitman’s “Juno.” There are ample laughs but don’t dominate to warrant a “comedy” label, and when things get serious, the stakes don’t feel as high as to assign “Flower” a “drama” distinction.
Calling this movie a dramedy undercuts what “Flower” is selling. And it’s not really a coming of age tale when even the kids are getting tried as adults. For whatever reason, this movie blossomed in a barren storytelling desert where nothing interesting should grow. Instead of trying to analyze why “Flower” happened, we should take a whiff as it capture our senses and our hearts.