When I was a teenager, a good portion of a century ago, the last thing I wanted to see at the movies was anything having to do with life as a teenager. And for the most part, the Hollywood studios obliged. Sure, there were occasional coming-of-age period pieces like Summer of '42, but those were the misty nostalgia of middle-aged men, reminiscing about what it was like to make out while listening to Glenn Miller. For the most part, the inner lives of teenagers were treated as unworthy of serious attention, even if youth were given starring roles in a flood of beach movies and weekly invasions by aliens from the '60s on. The rare teen-focused prestige picture like Rebel Without a Cause was the exception that proved the rule.
By the 1980s something had changed, and the movies (and more significantly, television) took a strong interest in exploring life before 20. Teenagers became a demographic, a bargaining chip in the interplay of culture and commerce. A wave of teen entertainment appeared — MTV, John Hughes movies, ever-expanding shopping malls — selling music, video games, junk food and, most of all, a sense of identity. Using actual teenaged actors certainly helped expedite that change.
Despite its generally limited worldview, the teen movie can still cover a wide range of material, from raunchy sex comedies to sentimental romances, from the dark comedy of Heathers to the irritating self-consciousness of Juno. Take that broad collection of emotions, toss them into a blender and leave the concoction sitting out just long enough to turn rancid and you might come up with something like the new film Flower, a contrived casserole of leftover attitudes and strained coolness so confused about what it's trying to say that it changes emotional direction every 25 minutes or so without ever looking back at the plot points that seemed so important just a few scenes earlier.
- COURTESY OF THE ORCHARD
- Kathryn Hahn and Tim Heidecker play the mother and future stepfather of the coolest teen in suburbia.
Where to begin? Flower is so plot-heavy and in love with its own voice that it makes a Diablo Cody character look like a stumbling wallflower. Hang tight, because this is going to be a bumpy ride. Seventeen-year-old Erica (Zoey Deutch) lives in an anonymous suburban town and runs a vigilante crusade with two girlfriends. They target crooked cops and other low lives, luring them in with oral sex and taking their money. While her friends spend their ill-gotten gains, Erica saves hers to raise bail for her imprisoned father. Erica's just an ordinary teenaged gal, hanging out at the bowling alley with her pals, doting over her pet rat Titty Boy and filling a sketchbook with drawings of penises. You know, girl stuff!
The film makes the first of its erratic plot flips when Erica's mom and impossibly square soon-to-be-stepfather announce that there's going to be an addition to the family: His teenaged son Luke is getting out of rehab.
Luke is overweight, unfriendly and psychologically unstable (although two-thirds of those attributes will be forgotten by the film's end). But Erica's initial hostility fades when she learns that he once accused a local teacher of molesting him. Despite some doubts about his claims, Erica and friends giddily begin a plan of revenge.
- COURTESY OF THE ORCHARD
- Zoey Deutch stars as Erica, the rat-owning vigilante teen at the heart of Flower.
Deutch is a genuinely promising actress, but Flower is an adolescent mess, an explosion of nearly every irritating movie-teenager pose and contrivance you can imagine, waved in front of the viewer with a mixture of coyness and "aren't-we-being-daring?" pride. It revels in its own superficiality, sneering at middle-class trash culture even as it celebrates it (Erica says her rat watches 16 and Pregnant) and ultimately contributes to it.
Flower tries very hard to be provocative, but it's a second- or third-hand rehash of every self-important, self-pitying teen movie trope, brushing against heavy ideas like alienation, insecurity and feminism without insight or empathy. It's a juvenile revenge fantasy trying for shock value, an imitation of John Waters as staged by precocious mall rats.