By Liam Lacey
You get the facetious, lewd tone of Flower in the first five minutes. Pretty, brash 17-year-old Erica Vandross (former Disney child star Zoey Deutch) first appears onscreen when her head pops up from the lap of a middle-aged policeman in his patrol car.
"Where did you learn to give a hummer like that?" says the cop.
"Middle school," she answers.
Before you can hear the thunk of a misplaced rim shot, two of Erica's girlfriends, Kala (Dylan Gelula) and Claudine (Maya Eshet) appear with camera phones, demanding money from the cop. It turns out Erica and her friends have a gleeful, scampish blackmail scheme going on. It's like an Olsen twins movie, but with extortion and prostitution.
While some of the money goes to having fun at the Dairy Queen and arcade, Erica also has an altruistic motive. She's saving money to bail her casino-robbing dad out of jail. Lest that seem too pathetic, Erica's also just into penises, as her mother Laurie (Kathryn Hahn) discovers when she opens Erica's notebook, filled with drawings of erections she has known.
The Vandross family live in a suburban tract house in the San Fernando Valley which screams stymied aspirations. Laurie, who's anxiously man-hungry and dresses in inappropriately youthful clothes, treats Erica more like a sister than a daughter. She's desperate for things work out with her nerdy but moneyed boyfriend, Bob (comedian Tim Heidecker), who wears high-waist big-butt jeans and speaks in platitudes.
Laurie encourages Erica to be nice to Bob's shy, overweight 18-year-old son, Luke (Joey Morgan), who is fresh out of rehab and suicidal. Naturally, Erica promptly offers him a blowjob ("...it wouldn’t be a burden") but Luke, who is suffering from childhood sexual abuse, demurs. Is this funny yet?
Luke tells Erica that his abuser was a former teacher named Will (Adam Scott). Erica recognizes him as the man she and her friends ogle at the mall and call "Hot Old Guy." It's time to use her special skills to catch a predator. ("Shaking down a child molester is our moral obligation!" she declares.) Things turn slightly dark before the narrative goes off the rails. At the same time, we're encouraged to re-envision Erica as vulnerable and adorable rather than sociopathic.
Performances are fine — Deutch is sassy and vivacious and Hahn a reliable hot mess — but Flower never manages to justify its puerile premise. It's perhaps no surprise that a film about a teen bj queen was put together by three guys. The script was originally written by Alex McAulay, and then reworked by Max Winkler (son of the Fonz, Henry Winkler) and co-writer Matt Spicer, director of the smartly satiric Ingrid Goes West. With Flower, they started with an outrageous idea, then reeled it back all the way to mush.
Flower. Directed by Max Winkler. Written by Alex McAulay, Max Winkler, and Matt Spicer. Starring Zoey Deutch, Kathryn Hahn, Tim Heidecker, Adam Scott and Joey Morgan. Opens March 23 at Cineplex Yonge Dundas Toronto; March 30 at Mayfair Theatre Ottawa; and other cities throughout the spring.