“Flower” is like a Betty Crocker cake taken out of the oven 15 minutes too early — guiltily enticing, golden-brown on the outside, but evidently inedible after the first cut. With a cast headlined by Zoey Duetch (“Everybody Wants Some!!”) and Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation”), the film quickly loses its sheen as it devolves into one of the worst teen edge-fests in recent memory. It tries to shock the viewer into some Stockholm-syndrome-esque appreciation of an absolutely unlikable main character as she dances through her twisted antics to some forgettable radio-pop mix. It’s hollow entertainment.
The teen flick follows a crude and unusual 17-year-old sexual extortionist Erica (Zoey Deutch) as she deals with her new, fresh-out-of-rehab step-brother Luke (Joey Morgan, “Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse”) in her own special way. They work together to take down a pedophile whose actions sent Luke into a downward spiral after middle school, their actions causing more harm than good and leading to a blooming but wholly unearned romance.
The film’s most egregious issue is its audacity to expect empathy for a punishingly boring protagonist. Erica is written to be a wild, renegade teen who takes her town by the reins, not taking slack from anyone. This was not accomplished. On screen, Deutch tries way too hard to be edgy and just seems immature, which can sometimes be a fine trait in a main character if it is used as a touchstone to measure future growth (see “Rushmore”’s Max Fisher) but it doesn’t work here. Instead, Erica’s actions and responses to situations become too familiar too fast. She’s petulant and predictable, and she sours quickly.
“Flower” has primed some comparison to 2018 heavyweight “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” as both follow a female lead who takes it upon herself to bring to justice child predators in their towns. In a way, it suffers from a similar problem. While these characters may be fighting for a perfectly moral and just cause, the way they accomplish their end goal matters. Granted, “Flower” doesn’t deserve to be in the same conversation, but there is some trend present. If actions of characters in a film were supposed to be just a means to an end, filmmakers would have resorted by now to showing found footage of liberated prisoners of war walking out of American airports and of children hugging chronically abused puppies as they leave humane society shelters. If the characters given are too unlikable, it doesn’t matter what they’re doing, it will still be a difficult movie to watch. In “Flower,” Erica doesn’t do enough to distance herself from the actions on screen. The movie attempts to humanize her through a few softer scenes toward the end, but as your father told you when you were losing that fourth grade travel basketball game by 18 points late in the second half: “you can’t get it all back on one trip down the floor.” “Flower” chucks it up from half-court a few times toward the end instead of creating well-rounded characters throughout, and just like in that basketball game, it doesn’t work.