(Image by Paul Davidson courtesy of The Orchard)

(Image by Paul Davidson courtesy of The Orchard)


The raw and feverish sounds of a male climaxing open Flower and you immediately then know that all childhood innocence is figuratively out the window.  When the camera steps in to reveal that window belonging to the police car of a sheriff receiving fellatio for money from a 17-year-old girl, any decency gets pushed away even further.  Hello, raised eyebrows, furrowed brows, and uncomfortable observation! Alas, there is a twist.

The introductory thrill here is meant to be the second crime that’s happening beyond the sex act.  This lawman is being caught on video by the girl’s friends for the purpose of blackmailing him for money, and it works in spades.  This was all a trap meant to be an expensive and embarrassing lesson of retribution to the cop for soliciting minors. Rather than meeting a victim named Erica, you’re meeting a self-professed vigilante played by rising Before I Fall star Zooey Deutch.  

LESSON #1: USING SEXUAL FAVORS AS CURRENCY-- By our main character’s logic, a penis is a thumb without a fingernail and no man can resist a good blowjob.  This girl has zero prudish fibers and could make Saturday Night Live’s old “Church Lady” blush.  

Go ahead and say it.  That’s f--ked up. That’s what you’re getting in Flower, the second feature film from director Max Winkler (Ceremony) that premiered back at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.  The indie effort opens exclusively this week locally at AMC River East and the Landmark Century Centre. If you’re wondering how this deplorable conduct can be redeemed from this auspicious of a beginning, you’re asking a very good question.

Erica and her two besties Kala and Claudine (Dylan Gelula and Maya Eschet) have made this a regular scam, a torch-bearing undercover mission of their own that has netted thousands of dollars from unwitting perpetrators that will pay to keep things quiet.  At an uncomfortable level of peace using her attractiveness to snare these pedophiles, Erica labels her motives as feminism.

LESSON #2: THE PROS OF VIGILANTISM-- In these girls’ eyes, their actions are changing things and teaching lessons.  They are keeping these same offensive abuses from happening to someone else. For that, they don’t see their unlawful wrongness being worse than the bigger crimes and injustices that have been committed.  Keep reading later for how this fails.

Clearly, no active parents or influences of authority are around to tame or deter her warped righteousness.  The closest thing is Erica’s single mom Laurie (Kathryn Hahn, channeling her Bad Moms act for dramatic effect instead of laughs) because her father is in jail.  Laurie has a new boyfriend in the form of the nerdy Bob Sherman (Tim Heidecker of Tim & Eric duo fame) who is a package deal with his own introverted son Luke (Joey Morgan of Scouts Guide to the Apocalypse).  

Erica’s portly potential stepbrother is newly released from a year of juvenile rehabilitation for the vices of pills, anxiety, and eating.  When Luke opens up to her effort to care and listen out of pity, he reveals unspoken and unpunished past sexual abuse from a former teacher.  Erica activates her pervert hit squad on the new target, the “Hot Old Guy” (Parks and Recreation's Adam Scott) at the bowling alley, himself no easy mark with a smug guard of wit.  Sure enough, tables turn.

Though measured as a small independent film, Flower is an undoubted showcase platform for the soaring talent of Zooey Deutch.  Clad in her plain tank-tops and empowering a character with all kinds of obscene confidence, not even the worst behaviors on display can take away the magnetism of her frank and jarring performance.  For most of the film, she shines repulsiveness with unmatched charisma. If Deutch wasn’t on your watch list for up-and-coming actresses, she should be now.

The challenge remains the wanton recklessness of the character arcs that make for a scattered story, written by Winkler and Ingrid Goes West director Matt Spicer from an unproduced screen story by Alex McAuley.  With a problematic amount of preposterousness, the third act pushes the corrupt glee too far.  Empathizing with toxic personalities and very preventable poor choices is a tough sell, no matter the attempts at charm.  Endearment is a difficult level to reach with this film, but a commendable wild spirit is there, thanks to the straits the Erica and Luke characters find shared gravity within.    

LESSON #3: THE CONS OF VIGILANTISM-- Where there are pros, there will always be cons.  There is indeed a place of failure where Erica’s devious schemes are no better than what her targets did to their own victims.  What if she baits someone innocent instead of someone guilty? Now, who’s the person at fault and subject to consequences for the hunting game being played outside the law?

LESSON #4: THE WRONGS OF NOT CARING ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK-- The enormous boulder of untamed assertiveness resting on Erica’s shoulder is defined by the perception she emits where she doesn’t care what people think of her.  As tough as turbulent as she carries herself, it’s a BS cover. She has her own voids caused by emotional fractures where all of her acts count as expressions of that pain and cries for attention.  In a way, the ones that say they don’t care actually care the most.