I really wanted to like “Wildflower,” director Matt Smukler‘s narrative feature debut. It’s a sweet coming-of-age story that dives into very thorny territory. The end result is mixed, making the film feel off-putting, problematic, and insincere.
Inspired by true events, the film tells the story of teenager Bea (Kiernan Shipka), a young woman with a fiercely independent streak. Left in a coma after an accident, she narrates the film from her hospital bed with her eclectic family by her side. Bea recounts her life story from before birth until present day, detailing the normal struggles that most teens face. Her life is a bit more complicated than most, however. Bea was born to intellectually disabled parents (Dash Mihok, Samantha Hyde), and she has spent much of her own life caring for them. It’s been a challenge, especially since she will soon be graduating high school and is hoping to leave home for college.
The script touches on the very real conflict of Bea wanting to get away from her parents but also longing to care for them, but aside from that element (and Brad Garrett‘s character daring to say the quiet part out loud), everything in the story is formulated to a fault. The characters are eccentric, the humor is forced. What’s disappointing is that for each part of the film that seems earnest, there’s another that’s too quirky simply for the purpose of being so. The film isn’t wholly problematic, but it is distasteful at times. The most glaring is Mihok’s dumb redneck take on his character, portraying him as a lazy, trailer park simpleton.
Shipka is a very likeable lead actor, and the talented cast makes the film watchable. It’s sweet and easily accessible for audiences. The film has a good story with unconventional situations, is designed to be a crowd-pleaser, yet it’s not all that memorable. The problems are glaring once you stop to think about them.
Comparisons to “CODA” are fair insofar as it’s also a coming-of-age story of a teen living with parents with a disability, yet this film lacks the candor of last year’s Best Picture winner. Instead, “Wildflower” is the most manipulative type of inspirational film.