Review by Tatiana Miranda
Loosely based on director Matt Smuckler's niece's life, Wildflower is a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl as she figures out her future, all while trying to take care of her neurodivergent parents. In the vein of the award-winning film CODA, Wildflower attempts to showcase an underrepresented group, yet, unlike CODA, it falls a bit flat. Although it has a well-stacked cast, with Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka at the helm as teenager Bea, the film's writing and storytelling leave much to be desired.
Alongside Shipka are other familiar faces Charlie Plummer as Bea's boyfriend, Alexandra Daddario as her aunt Joy, and even rising star Ryan Liera Armstrong making an appearance as young Bea. With a cast full of familiar faces, it leads one to believe that there is some merit to this film. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as even the cast's acting chops could not save what is a lackluster and slightly offensive film.
The movie opens with a comatose Bea as her dysfunctional family crowds around her, each person dealing with their stress in their own unique and slightly comical way. Her grandmothers, Loretta and Peg, are opposite sides of the same coin, both fiercely loving their children (Bea's parents) but also harboring different perspectives on their identities and skillset. Bea's intense and overprotective aunt and uncle crowd around as well.
Then there are Bea's parents: Derek and Sharon. Through flashback sequences, it's revealed that Derek suffered a traumatic brain injury as a kid, subsequently never mentally maturing from that age. Meanwhile, Sharon was born developmentally challenged. This leaves Bea in a tricky situation as she prepares for college since she feels that she has to stay in order for her parents to survive. The movie gives a strong argument for this notion as well, with Sharon having gambling problems and Derek's inability to hold onto a job.
As she attempts to figure out what landed her in a coma, Bea showcases her life up until now via flashbacks. Because of this, there's a misleading air of mystery about the incident itself, which — spoiler alert — is quite disappointing. The inclusion of a social worker character who acts as a pseudo-detective also leads the audience to believe that there will be some big reveal at the end, but instead, it's just the case of a bad breakup mixed with the poor choices of a teenager.
Since Wildflower is primarily focused on Bea and her struggles growing up with neurodivergent parents, its portrayal of disabilities is fairly one-dimensional and slightly degrading, as Bea tends to blame a lot of her issues on her parents. Throughout the movie, she tells stories of her parents' overreliance, both monetarily and emotionally.
Although there is an attempt at a happy ending where Bea realizes that her parents don't really need her to survive, it falls flat as everything up until then shows the audience that they do, in fact, need her. Like most coming-of-age stories, Wildflower is cheesy and not the best narratively, but it does at least attempt to showcase a story that is highly underrepresented.
Wildflower opens in theaters March 17 and hits VOD on March 21.