We first meet Erica (Zoey Deutch) on a job. That job is, in fact, extorting and threatening people for money after performing sexual acts while a friend records it. This time it’s a police officer. She revels in it with her friends, celebrating with a large shopping spree from the spoils of their efforts and adding the remainder to her hidden piggy bank.
Flower, directed by Max Winkler, skirts the line between comedy and drama in expert fashion. It’s all about a core relationship between near-strangers and what someone will do for someone when it can benefit you in some way. That sounds heavier than it actually is, as the movie has a sense of humor throughout, and while it may stumble in the ending, everything that came before is surprising and deeply fascinating.
Deutch pulls off a difficult performance, where the character can go south to unlikable if not handled the correct way. But she not only handles the role well, she adds a level of openness and charm to each smarmy and biting comment. Some of her line readings are downright hilarious, using the uncomfortableness of those around her to her advantage, or playing ditzy in her first meeting with Will (Adam Scott), or having doubts as a bad situation turns worse before her eyes. It’s a layered performance that some of her previous movies have not awarded her, as good as she was in those.
Her character’s notebook full of well-drawn penises is almost like a trophy collection, each page a remembrance of a mark. Her mother—played wonderfully (but not used as much as would have been preferred) by Kathryn Hahn—even hands it back to her, carefree and offering concern but never downright disappointment by seeing something like that. The new boyfriend is moving in, played by Tim Heidecker, in a more steadfast performance than his usual, though with some good lines. With him comes the other lead of the film, his son fresh out of rehab.
When asked to go check on her future stepbrother Luke (Joey Morgan) after a panic attack, Erica uses that time to make money out of it. Twenty bucks and a handshake. Everything is transactional, never out of kindness, though the reasoning behind these transactions comes from a good place, as manipulative as the acts getting there are. To say where it all leads would be a great disservice to the movie, though it ties together the events of the first act quite nicely.
There is an almost Todd Solondz quality to the film by way of Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness: a dark, almost sleazy undercurrent to every moment and every action taken in the film. Yet a lot of the film has a sense of humor, a twisted and heavy sense of humor, to be sure, but one that caught me by surprise a few times. This is pulled off by having a lot of comedic actors playing things straight, including Scott, whose measured character is more dramatic than his usual roles but plays well among the other cast members.
The pairing of Erica and Luke is an odd couple that manages to work very well: a shy, broken young man on the heavy side, and an open young woman who seemingly does not have a care in the world. It’s the main crux of the movie, and their strange friendship bordering on a relationship that always feels at the brim of disintegration is a strong addition that helps bridge the drama to the comedic.
The third act does take a turn that may not come off as well for some, feeling like it could be another movie and having a resolution that borders on rushed at best and a cop-out at worst. It does a disservice to its subject matter based on how the third act plays out, which some may find unfortunate. But the lead-up to those final twenty minutes were executed so well that it’s a smaller blemish to overall quite a good time, and is still within character for what came before.
Flower goes for a tone that is a bit of a rarity these days. It’s a rather dark movie with a sadistic sense of humor, with an excellent lead performance by Deutch and really good supporting cast members in Morgan, Hahn, and Heidecker. Winkler made a film in the same vein as Solondz, where characters not seen in everyday movies do some not-so-kind things and make choices that may rub some audiences the wrong way. But for the rest of us, it’s a movie that downright catches the attention and holds on for dear life.