Film Review: “Wildflower” Is Tender, But a Bit Too Tame

By Peg Aloi

In terms of genre, I would describe Wildflower as a sort of Hallmark Channel-style drama, a quirky but heartwarming tale of a scrappy girl who overcomes the odds to help her family stay together.

Wildflower, directed by Matt Smukler. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

Kiernan Shipka in Wildflower. Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures

Matt Smukler’s directorial debut feature Wildflower is based on a true story. It is an expansion of Smukler’s 2020 documentary film with the same title, which tells the story of his own niece and her parents. With an excellent cast including Kiernan Shipka (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), Jean Smart (Hacks), Jacki Weaver (Yellowstone), Dash Mihok (Ray Donovan), Erika Alexander (Get Out), Alexandra Daddario (Mayfair Witches, The White Lotus), and Brad Garrett (Everyone Loves Raymond), this well-acted coming-of-age story is funny and heartwarming.

The film begins with an accident that leaves high school senior Bea (Shipka) comatose in a hospital. Various family members arrive from near and far to be with her and with each other. There’s obviously a bit of tension in this family situation, all of which will soon be unraveled by the rather contrived device of Bea telling her entire life story in voice-over while she’s in a coma. This conceit is a little clumsy at times, but it also provides plenty of comedy as Bea’s opinionated personal commentary clashes with her family’s actions. The most significant fact of Bea’s life is that her parents are both developmentally disabled. Her mother Sharon (Samantha Hyde) has had a mental disability since birth, and her father Derek (Mihok) suffered a brain injury with lasting effects after being hit by a drunk driver at age 12. Sharon’s parents, Peg (Smart) and Earl (Garrett), want her to have fun, so when she meets a cute boy named Derek, Peg thinks it’s fine for her to go on a date, despite Earl’s protests. The next thing they know, the two young people have run off to Vegas to get married. This leads to some rather shocking conversations between family members including some rather appalling speculation between the two sets of in-laws, including Derek’s parents Loretta (played by a hilarious Jacki Weaver) and Hal (Twin Peaks’ Chris Mulkey), about whether or not Sharon should be forced to get a tubal ligation. The film doesn’t really closely explore the issues surrounding the rights of the developmentally disabled, which may be an issue for some viewers.

In any case, Sharon winds up pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl she names Bambi, later known as Bea. Grandma Peg chips in to help out with the baby, while Earl grows increasingly stressed and worried about the situation, causing tension in their marriage. Young Bea grows into a smart and sassy young girl (played beautifully by newcomer Ryan Kiera Armstrong). From a young age, Bea is forced into being a parental figure to her own mother and father. Her father actually teaches her to drive at age 10; he figures she should to be able to drive in an emergency if he is incapacitated. Sharon for her part is not very good at housekeeping or managing finances, so Bea also chips in to help keep the household together. Although the family has many struggles, they’re happy. It’s decided Bea should go live for a summer with her Aunt Joy (Alexandra Daddario) and Uncle Ben (Reid Scott), who have twin boys and who are rather annoyingly protective helicopter parents. Ben finds Bea to be ill-behaved and possibly a bad influence on the twins. Proving his point, Bea tries to get the boys to go against the house rules and go swimming without an adult present. When Bea jumps in the pool and nearly drowns, Ben saves her, and changes his tune, feeling immediately protective and loving toward his niece. The film’s frequent pivoting between comedy and drama works well in scenes like this one.

Ben pays for Bea to attend a private high school, where she does extremely well academically. A caring guidance counselor (Victor Rasuk) urges Bea to pursue college, but Bea feels she can’t leave her childlike parents on their own. Still, Bea is growing up and wants to begin living her own life. Her best friend Mia (Kannon) becomes jealous when Ethan (Charlie Plummer), a cute new boy at school, pays special attention to Bea. The timeline closes in on Bea’s hospitalization, which happens the night of the senior prom. Ethan comes to the hospital, even though he must admit that he and Bea have recently broken up. All of the people in Bea’s life wind up talking to a social worker who has been assigned to look into the family’s case due to the mysterious nature of the accident that landed Bea in the hospital (we later find out that she was left on a bench outside the emergency room).

As with Bea’s voice-over, the social worker character is also a bit of a clumsy device, clearly designed to elicit information from the various characters. While I found the script to be a bit too expository for my taste, the story provides a number of very funny moments, while a very talented cast imbues the film’s characters with real warmth and humor. The actors are adroit enough to rise above the occasional bursts of hammy dialogue. In terms of genre, I would describe Wildflower as a sort of Hallmark Channel-style drama, a quirky but heartwarming tale of a scrappy girl who overcomes the odds to help her family stay together. For folks who like that kind of thing, this is the kind of thing they like.

Peg Aloi is a former film critic for the Boston Phoenix and member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Critics Choice Awards, and the Alliance for Women Film Journalists. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes on film, TV, and culture for web publications like Time, Vice, Polygon, Bustle, Mic, Orlando Weekly, and Bloody Disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found on substack.

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts