Erica (Zoey Deutch), the 17-year-old protagonist of Flower, speaks in an elaborate and ostentatiously profane manner that distinguishes her as a graduate of the Diablo Cody Institute for Preternaturally Smug Adolescents, while scarfing down junk food and cheap beer and waxing nostalgic for music that existed long before she was born. Clad in tank tops and clingy shorts, she’s another carefully grungy babe as masturbatory fantasy, which was furiously satirized by the novelist Gillian Flynn as a “cool girl.”
Immediately after meeting her future stepbrother, the morose and dramatically overweight Luke (Joey Morgan), who’s out of rehab for an addiction to diet pills, Erica offers him a blow job in the parking lot of a restaurant where they’re having dinner with his father, Bob (Tim Heidecker), and her mother, Laurie (Kathryn Hahn). That’s just how fucking cool Erica is. Blow jobs aren’t a big deal to this iconoclast, who blackmails older men by going down on them while her friends film the acts. As staged by director Max Winkler, this is all meant to be taken in cutesy stride. Erica is Lolita as hipster con artist, looking to be emotionally fulfilled by the right sad sack.
For about a half hour, Flower appears to be intentionally channeling Luke’s yearning, which is the yearning of unattractive and sexually arrested late bloomers all over who dream of a poised and beautiful person who miraculously understands and respects them. Erica and Luke have a chemistry that makes a degree of sense, as Luke’s flamboyant miserableness has a wounded dignity, particularly to someone as guarded as Erica, who—as reductively defined by the film—has daddy issues that she’s working through with her entrapment of men. Deutch invests Erica with a hyper-confidence that’s understood to be performative, and her sensualized zippiness contrasts evocatively with Morgan’s more deliberate rhythms.
But Flower grows so ludicrous that it proves resistant to the efforts of its stars. The film transitions from a conventionally unconventional romance to a home-invasion thriller to a Gen Z outlaw movie in which Erica and Luke fulfill their submerged passions while eluding the police. Winkler shows little interest in exploring the myriad forms of abuse that pepper the narrative, or in Erica and Luke’s psychological frames of mind as their lives spin out of control. These events are impersonally staged incidents that allow Winkler to celebrate Erica and Luke’s psychopathic self-absorption. People may be hurt, but what matters is that Erica learns to be a “one-dick girl” while Luke gets a chick way out of his league. Flower is a sentimental work of faux nihilism, pandering to children who’re just discovering alienation.