Flower (The Orchard, R)

I ’ll get right to it. Flower is Manic Pixie Dream Girl meets hot step-sister fantasy. Max Winkler, son of Henry (the Fonz) Winkler, doesn’t seem to have inherited his dad’s connection to the essence of suave. He brings the uncomfortable equivalent of an internet erotica to the silver screen with the style of a young adult romantic drama à la John Green. But that’s not the only adolescent-geared media this film rips off. There are plenty more. The fact that Winkler thinks he’s in league with these artists (and by the many painfully obvious attempts at originality and edge, he does) is so much crazier than any of the quirky character follies of Erica (Zoey Deutch) and her detached friends.

We begin the movie with Erica fellating a police officer and blackmailing him for money. A regular practice of her and her friends Kala and Claudine (Dylan Gelula and Maya Eshet), the trio uses the funds to splurge on clothes and build a sufficient amount to bail Erica’s incarcerated father out of prison. Her mother, Laurie (criminally underused Kathryn Hahn) has begun seriously dating the squarish Bob (even more criminally underused Tim Heidecker). When Bob’s son Luke (Joey Morgan) is picked up from rehab, Erica befriends him with only a little pushing. Upon learning his drug addiction resulted from being molested by a teacher, who Erica knows as the hot guy at the bowling alley (Adam Scott), she conspires to blackmail him, as well, as a form of revenge.

Her first interaction with Luke, who is severely shy, quiet, and overweight, is offering him oral sex. The way she insists that she likes the act and has no problem performing it on her soon-to-be step-brother comes across neither as a dark moment to reveal Erica’s depravity or as an attempt at unsettling humor. Really, the only explanation for this and much of Erica’s dialogue is masturbation fodder decorated with a few Juno-esque quips so as to sound like boldness and whimsy. She displays her sexuality at a pathological level, much like Jo in Lars von Trier’s fancy porno drama Nymphomaniac, except this time she’s bright and positive about it. Her addiction to sex and criminal behavior is fun! This is a really smart, dark comedy, okay?

The willingness of Luke to engage in this scheme is insulting to actual survivors of abuse in suggesting that they would be wont to seek monetary compensation for being sexually violated. Erica’s selfish, sociopathic motives for carrying out this warped form of justice are never sufficiently questioned in the film’s writing other than a few moments of hesitation in Erica herself. But equally as insulting, these moments of hesitation are mostly fueled by Erica being attracted to the handsome potential predator.

Of course, on the other end of Erica’s attraction is the frumpy underdog, Luke. I don’t want to surmise that an overweight or socially awkward boy could never be in a relationship with a girl as beautiful as Zoey Deutch, but I do want to surmise that Max Winkler’s inner fat kid never had that luxury. The entire Erica/Luke dynamic is the most shameful and cringe-inducing form of wish-fulfillment for sexually frustrated loner-types. Furthermore, the entirety of Flower is an embarrassing attempt to pass off a shoddily conceived crime-comedy as a coming-of-age story which maturely deals with adolescent sexuality. You can’t get any closer to a belly flop than this. | Nic Champion

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