Director: Matt Smukler
Cast: Kiernan Shipka, Jean Smart, Dash Mihok, Alexandra Daddario, Charlie Plummer, Jackie Weaver, Brad Garrett, Kannon Omachi, Reid Scott, Erika Alexander, Samantha Hyde
Running time: 105 mins
Co-written by director Matt Smukler, who based the story on his own family, Wildflower is a sweet-natured coming-of-age film that’s short on plot but strong on character. As a result, it’s entirely watchable, thanks to a superb, likeable cast, but it never quite hits the emotional highs you’re expecting.
Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) stars as Bea Johnson, the teenage daughter of neurodivergent parents Sharon (Samantha Hyde) and Derek (Dash Mihok). As the film begins, the members of Bea’s extended family – including bickering grandmothers Jean Smart and Jackie Weaver – gather at her hospital bed, after learning that she’s fallen into a coma during her senior year.
This gives the film its somewhat unconventional narrative device, whereby a still comatose Bea relates her life story in flashback, until the mystery of how she ended up in a coma is finally revealed. Accordingly, we learn about how her parents got together, and how she was raised by various family members – including her aunt and uncle (Alexandra Daddario and Reid Scott) – at various points in her life, as well as meeting her boyfriend, Ethan (Charlie Plummer).
There isn’t a great deal in the way of plot – about the most exciting thing that happens is that young Bea (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) gets into a car accident after her father tries to teach her to drive when she’s eleven and can barely see over the dashboard. Instead, the focus of the script is on Bea’s emotional journey, and how she navigates her own conflicting feelings towards her parents and her upbringing.
On that level, the film wobbles a little. We get to know Bea’s father quite well (Mihok’s performance strikes exactly the right tone), but her mother’s character is underexplored, and she comes across largely as an overgrown child and the film seems either unwilling or unable to scratch beneath the surface of that.
On a similar note, Bea’s coming-of-age style shenanigans are rather low-key, and the other relationships aren’t drawn well enough to generate any real emotional interest in, say, Bea falling out with her best friend (Kannon Omachi as Mia), her clashes with the resident mean girl (Amanda Jones), or even her burgeoning relationship. That said, though you can’t help wishing there was just a touch more character development, it’s actually rather refreshing that the film doesn’t attempt to deliver big emotional punches and the low-key elements end up being rather refreshing.
Fortunately, the cast are so good that they easily compensate for the film’s deficiencies elsewhere. Shipka, superb as always, makes a likeable and engaging lead, but the clear stand-outs are Jean Smart and Jackie Weaver as the acerbic grandmothers. Their every scene together is a delight, to the point where you fervently hope someone casts them both in something again soon. Hell, maybe give them their own TV show?