Like a dutiful eldest child, Matt Smukler’s debut feature, Wildflower, adheres to the conventions of its genre. The high-spirited coming-of-age story, which follows Bea, a plainspoken teenager navigating life with neurodivergent parents, has the tumultuous high-school drama, the particular cheeky romance with a bashful love interest, the fight with the spunky best friend and the particular undulating moods of wonky relatives in desperate need of filters. These requisite beats are fulfilled by a gallery of distinctive characters. Wildflower, inspired simply by Smukler’s family, might not be a radical departure from films of its type, but it does offer buoyant performances from both fresh and familiar faces.
Kiernan Shipka (of Mad Men plus Chilling Adventures of Sabrina ) leads an endearing troupe of actors with her animated portrayal of Bea. We meet her character as she lies comatose in the hospital bed, surrounded by worried family members. How she ended up there is a question that drives Smukler’s boisterous bildungsroman, which usually, via flashbacks, takes us through Bea’s life from childhood towards the recent past, attempting to piece together the moments before her hospitalization. These jaunts down memory lane are usually narrated simply by Bea’s omniscient subconscious in voiceover.
The Bottom Line A jam-packed yet warmhearted first appearance.
Before it turns to the past, Wildflower offers a glimpse of Bea’s intra-family relations, the particular percolating resentments, disjointed communication style and general chaos that reigns. Her feuding grandmothers Loretta (a delightfully acerbic Jacki Weaver ) plus Peg (an equally sharp-edged Jean Smart ) won’t stop sniping at each other. In the background associated with their bickering are Bea’s neurotic aunt Joy (Alexandra Daddario) and her equally anxious husband, Ben (Reid Scott), begging the loved ones to stay positive. In comparison to the particular rest of the clan, Bea’s mother and father, Sharon (Samantha Hyde) plus Derek (Dash Mihok), are calm and collected, maintaining a steady faith that their daughter will wake up.
Bea (short for Bambi, Sharon’s favorite cartoon character) grew up hearing some other adults describe her moms and dads as “special, ” a good euphemism, the girl later realized, for neurodivergent. She recounts how Sharon and Derek met, the rush of their marriage and the particular thrill associated with her birth. Although Bea’s parents were never insecure about their ability to pursue their goals (professional plus romantic), everyone else was and made that clear. Peg and Earl ( Everybody Loves Raymond ’s Brad Garrett), Sharon’s parents, struggle to trust their own daughter to make her own decisions. Loretta, Derek’s mother, harbors animus for Sharon’s family but seems less fazed. There is an unacknowledged yet suffocating assumption that the new parents simply can’t do it.
But Sharon plus Derek are a determined duo. They move out of their particular respective parents’ homes within Van Nuys, California, and start out on their personal with Bea in Las Vegas. Like Sian Heder’s CODA , Wildflower refracts the experiences of the disabled characters through a child turned caretaker. Although there are portrayals of underrepresented experiences, the film prioritizes Bea’s perspective and our understanding of neurodivergence will be filtered through her neurotypical lens. Yet whereas CODA stayed in straightforward sentimental territory, Wildflower is looser and more self-aware.
The particular early years of Bea’s life are jam-packed with adventure and freedom. Her first real home is inside a mobile community, where Sharon plus Derek make friends with people who help babysit. Eventually, they save enough money to relocate to the particular suburbs, the move that will initiates the friction between Bea and her mom and dad. Exposure to life outside of the girl immediate household shifts Bea’s understanding plus lowers her tolerance with regard to Sharon and Derek. She reads their laid-back attitude as clumsy and finds their carefree approach to life frustrating. Ryan Kiera Armstrong is assured as young Bea: There is a quiet confidence within her movements, which accurately reflect a child’s growing indignation at the girl parents.
After a driving lesson gone wrong plus a visit from a social worker, Bea will be sent to live with her aunt Joy and Ben. Although the particular couple, who have two sons of their own, teach Bea skills she’s missed out on — swimming, for example — and introduce the girl to different experiences, their own neuroticism annoys her. The arrangement is usually short-lived.
Wildflower fast forwards to Bea’s senior year, when she is hawking school raffle tickets on the strip along with her closest friend Mia (Kannon) in hopes of winning a free trip to Disney. We don’t get in order to see the years among Bea’s return and this recent past, but it’s clear through her mindset that the lady has the renewed appreciation for plus understanding associated with her mothers and fathers.
Wildflower covers so much ground before getting to the main action that parts of the introduction can’t assist but feel like throat-clearing. The film gains its footing once it settles into Bea’s recent previous, chronicling her budding love with the particular new boy at school, Ethan (Charlie Plummer); a rocky battle with Mia; her guidance counselor’s insistence that she apply to college; and a petty feud with their high school’s resident mean girl.
Hovering in the background of these interactions is usually Bea’s broader struggle: overcoming her condescending relationship to her parents plus, by extension, everyone around her. When Smukler focuses on this tension, Wildflower ’s core characters (Bea, Sharon and Derek) gain an exciting sharpness plus dimension. It’s during those scenes that will Shipka, Hyde and Mihok stretch beyond beleaguered archetypes, interacting with each other instead of clichés.
Because what’s ultimately at stake is how Bea relates to the girl parents. Whenever she starts to see them within the same light as the rest of the world, she overcompensates by turning herself into a caretaker. That unforced responsibility resurfaces childhood problems and reveals hard-to-swallow truths. The movie culminates in a tumultuous blow-up, but it is no spoiler to say that relationships are repaired, amends produced and Bea learns some valuable lessons along the way.