Wildflower (2023) Movie Review: The first thing you’ll notice about Wildflower is its well-rounded ensemble. With veteran actors like Jackie Weaver and Jean Smart at the helm, what could go wrong? The film is painfully straightforward and harmless for a large part of it. It’s just the kind of film you’d want to watch playing on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but beyond that, Matt Smukler’s debut is forgettable, confused, and maudlin to really leave a mark.
For starters, there’s this constant narration that is so eager to over-explain everything to you that its more cutesy, witty quips also start getting on your nerves. The running gag is our protagonist Bea (her mother named her Bambi) – a high school senior who is in a coma. Her entire family, which is full of one distinct personality after another, is there by her bedside; but they are so overly consumed by their own inability to operate with a real-world problem that they are once again putting Bambi in a corner – hence the constant narration. I wouldn’t mind if that was the case, though. Director Smukler’s choice to reiterate every feeling and emotion that an-in-coma Bea is going through gets increasingly frustrating as the movie moves forward.
Anyway, the plot revolves around Bae (played by Kieran Shipka), a single child to Intellectually disabled parents, Derek (Dash Miwok), and Sharon (Samantha Hyde). Much of Bae’s life has been about holding down the fort on the household front, mending the things around the house, and taking care of her parents. When we first meet a younger Bae (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), she is headstrong, free-willed, and mature for her age. There’s a sequence where she has to lure her mother with Oreo biscuits so as to get her ready for work on time. A timid flashback shows us the generalized notion behind disability, wherein Sharon’s mother – played by Jean Smart, is supportive of her child and her choices, and her father – played by Brad Garrett, is dismissive.
Derek’s mother, played by Jacki Weaver, on the other hand, is modeled as a generic narcissist who is either too consumed with her bottle of alcohol or is lighting up cigarettes where she shouldn’t. Then there’s the older sister to Sharon, i.e., Joy (Alexandra Daddario) & her husband, who might as well be completely edited out of the picture, and it wouldn’t change a thing. Wildflower’s narrative about a dysfunctional family is so afraid to become something, that it leaves you with nothing to ponder on and doesn’t risk giving these caricatures any depth.
Similarly, the part that wants us to understand and truly accept disability is not given enough gravitas to even resonate with you for longer than the runtime of the film. The film, however, partially succeeds in telling the tale of a young girl trying to really understand her role as a woman, a daughter, a caregiver, and an independent adult. Thanks to a believable turn by Kieran Shipka and a gentle, subdued look at mature teen relationships with interesting turns from Charlie Plummer and Kannon, Wildflower becomes a story about letting things fall into place on their own; for once.