Flawed dark comedy has a future star in Zoey Deutch
It wasn't really much of a secret how much I loved “Lady Bird” last year. I gave it a five-star rave review. I named it my top movie of 2017 (In quite a good year, I might add). I was rooting for it on Oscar night.
But the warm honesty exhibited in Greta Gerwig's directorial debut may have claimed its first casualty in raising the bar for the teen coming-of-age story from the female perspective. It's hard for me to watch “Flower” and not compare the two.
Granted, “Lady Bird” flourished in some ways by not being edgy, because we have seen the edgy, rebellious and often too-sexualized female coming-of-age story. “Flower” feels a bit more like the product of someone weaned on '90s indies like “The Doom Generation” and “Freeway.”
It is, in a nutshell, a movie that could have used a woman behind the camera, particularly because there's a lead performance that indicates real star potential.
Erica Vandross (Zoey Deutch) is the sort of sharp-witted, rebellious 17-year-old that tends to exist more often than not in the mind of a male screenwriter. If Saoirse Ronan's lead in “Lady Bird” was charming in her confident insecurity, Erica has the sort of unabashed confidence that doesn't feel too authentically teenaged.
She does, admirably enough, not give an eff. She lives in the San Fernando Valley with her mom (Kathryn Hahn) and her mom's new boyfriend, Bob (Tim Heidecker), whose son, Luke (Joey Morgan), is rejoining the family after a stint in rehab.
In an odd intersection with Erica's hobby of using oral sex to blackmail older men, Luke's arrival in the family leads to a strange turn of events, introducing her teen angst to larger consequences.
Writer-director Max Winkler is aiming for a mix of teen angst and dark comedy I can admire. But since “Flower” can't decide whether it would rather be more honest and relatable or delicious and dark, it's really not enough of either. (Side note: I've seen Cory Finley's “Thoroughbreds” three times already this year, so I may be kind of spoiled. It's the best movie of 2018 so far. Go see it.)
It is, however, worth checking out for the star-in-the-making performance from Deutch, a standout from the great cast of Richard Linklater's underseen “Everybody Wants Some!!”
Deutch shows some rough edges in her acting game, but also a natural ease in front of the camera that makes me confident we'll see more of her. She keeps “Flower” charming and watchable even when it goes off the rails a bit.