Wild flower2023.

Directed by Matt Smukler.
With Kiernan Shipka, Alexandra Daddario, Charlie Plummer, Jean Smart, Jacki Weaver, Kannon Omachi, Dash Mihok, Reid Scott, Samantha Hyde, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Brad Garrett, Chloe Rose Robertson, Chris Mulkey, Amanda Jones, Josh Plasse, Clayton Royal Johnson, Kimleigh Smith, Sanjay Nambiar and Erika Alexander.


A coming-of-age film that follows Bea Johnson from birth to graduation as she navigates life with an intellectually disabled parent and extended family who can’t quite get along on how best to help.

Teenage Bea Johnson (Kiernan Shipka) has more than a dysfunctional family; her parents are mentally handicapped. Wild flower director Matt Smukler (developing a story inspired by true events alongside screenwriter Jana Savage) gets a proper look by casting mentally handicapped actors Samantha Hyde and Dash Mihok as parents, but not much else on these characters, starting the movie off on the wrong note and recovering somewhat, but that sour taste never leaves.

The problem is that those specific kinds of movies advocating that there’s more to people with disabilities than meets the eye need to stop centering on able-bodied characters who need to learn more about their abilities. This does not mean Wild flower would have been better if it centered on mentally handicapped parents Sharon and Derek, because truth be told, in that case, it might have resulted in a more insulting film given the script’s penchant for treating them as comedic devices for laughs despite attempting to make a point that they are not as helpless as their daughter perceives them to be. So far, the exception to the rule is CODAwhich viewed its disabled characters as grounded, down-to-earth human beings where the comedy came from their personalities and shot down the perceptions of able-bodied people. Wild flower is not CODA by any stretch of the imagination.

Unfolding through a series of narrated flashbacks after bringing Bea into a coma where she seeks to regain the memory of what hospitalized her, the story begins before she was born. Sharon, who was around 21 with the mindset of a young teenager, saw Derek, who became intellectually disabled following a car-related injury, doing work outside their house, thought he was attractive and decided to go out with him. Sharon’s mother (Jean Smart) supported this, aware that her daughter still needed to make friends, while her father (Brad Garrett) was mortified that people with disabilities *gasped* could have sex and potentially procreate . Fortunately, the film is aware that some of these characters are misguided.

A few scenes later, the whole family has gathered (including Derek’s unfiltered mother, played by Jacki Weaver, doing her usual comedic routine that doesn’t quite fit here), surrounded by a baby named Bambi. Sharon and Derek may have named their child Bambi in real life; that’s not the upsetting part. Frustratingly, the script can’t help but use this as a joke to emphasize how childish and unsuitable they are to be parents (including a quick shot of Sharon almost dropping the baby from the sofa on the floor), which makes Bambi/Bea’s inevitable revelation that they can take care of themselves seem like hollow bullshit, not because it may or may not be true, but because this movie is only meant to turn the parents into a joke and fail to take the necessary steps to prove that they are capable parents beyond briefly mentioning that Derek can hold down a job.

Wild flowerThe first act of is so insulting that you can’t blame anyone who doesn’t even get to the section of the story where Bea is a teenage girl played by Kiernan Shipka. Fortunately, her character is much more engaging, naturally dealing with bullying for having disabled parents and not always fitting in at school (although she does have a supportive best friend played by Kannon Omachi). Shortly after, cancer survivor Ethan (Charlie Plummer) transfers to school. The two quickly develop a believable relationship with strong chemistry based on being strangers (apparently Ethan only has one testicle after benefiting from cancer treatments).

As such, Wild flower works best when it comes to Bea understanding what relationships are and not being afraid to pursue her dreams. At one point, she discusses an uncomfortable version of the future with her boyfriend, causing an argument, but her reason for suggesting this unfortunately comes from the only lifestyle she has known; it’s the dramatic moments that feel real and are something Wild flower should have leaned more. There are also the usual coming-of-age cliches, like an important school essay and a savvy high school superintendent. The low psychological moments stem from the pressures of life that land Bea in frightening situations that turn out to be a reminder of how horrible men can be, offering some thrills and respite from the eye-rolling tropes.

Kiernan Shipka and Charlie Plummer are gifted and discreet enough to invest us in their familiar relationship; their performances make Wild flower watchable. The rest is tonally embarrassing and misses the mark, though Samantha Hyde and Dash Mihok’s work is equally touching. Don’t blame any actor; the script and direction are pulled straight from a cheesy mid-2000s inspirational drama with good intentions despite its misguided tone.

Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the editor of Flickering Myth Reviews. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter Or Letter boxor email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com