CREDIT: The Orchard

This review was originally posted on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Zoey Deutch, Adam Scott, Joey Morgan, Kathryn Hahn, Tim Heidecker, Dylan Gelula, Maya Eshet, Eric Edelstein

Director: Max Winkler

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for Matter-of-Fact Crude Teen Dialogue, Implications and Discussions of Statutory Relationships, and an Artistically Impressive Penis Drawing

Release Date: March 16, 2018 (Limited)

When Tim Heidecker is playing the relatively normal person, you know that everyone else is stepping a bit outside their comfort zones and/or we have now realized that everybody is at least a little bit crazy. Along with his frequent partner Eric Wareheim, Heidecker has set the demented tone for much of 21st century comedy. But when he acts for other writers and directors, he works effectively as the most grounded presence. In the case of Flower, in which teenagers attempt to expose pedophiles through unsavory means, he comes across as the voice of reason, or at least the one most conscientiously attempting to do the right thing. Meanwhile, folks like Zoey Deutch and Adam Scott, who normally play sweet and wholesome, are afforded plenty of opportunities to tap into their darker impulses.

Heidecker plays Bob, the stepfather-to-be of Deutch’s Erica, who runs a small-time extortion scam with her friends Kala (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Dylan Gelula) and Claudine (Maya Eshet), in which they lure adults into sex acts and then demand money once they reveal that they are underage. They sniff out a major opportunity when her future stepbrother Luke (Joey Morgan), stricken by panic attacks and suicidal tendencies, reveals that he was molested by Will (Scott), a former teacher of his who Erica recognizes as the hot older dude from the local bowling alley. She pronounces that shaking down a child molester is their “moral obligation,” but their sense of right and wrong is not exactly ideal, as they partly justify their actions by noting that they don’t want anyone to get fat after suffering abuse. Erica does seem to be motivated more by justice than cash, but her morals are too distorted to stop her from making things spiral out of control.

Flower is far from a Time’s Up rallying cry against abusers. It is much too complicated to be that. There are holes in Luke’s story, and Will seems too decent to be guilty of what he’s been accused of (and not in the way that abusers are often manipulatively charming), though it is certainly concerning that he allows the teenage Erica to insinuate herself into his life. And Erica and her friends are hardly appropriate symbols for victims reclaiming their dignity, as they are too quick to justify their own criminality as a means to the right end. Director/co-writer Max Winkler does not shy away from this messiness, getting a brazen but enticing performance out of Deutch in the process. But the ending ties everything up a little too neatly, opting for a romantic outlaw angle that ignores much of the film’s moral debris. The whole affair is a tonal ping-pong, for better and worse.

Flower is Recommended If You Like: The Edge of Seventeen, Donnie Darko, The Crush

Grade: 3 out of 5 Shakedowns