The dark comedy “Flower,” about a teenage girl who’s too sexually advanced for her own good, opens memorably with the 17-year-old Erica servicing the local sheriff in his car, wherein she cheerfully blackmails him for cash in return for her not posting incriminating photos on the Internet. How else is she supposed to raise money to bail her deadbeat dad out of jail?
It’s an audacious start to this often-smart movie, which doesn’t have a dull frame in it, thanks mainly to the star-making performance of Zoey Deutch, who dazzles the screen as Erica with her mix of humor, sensuality, volatility and vulnerability.
Erica, who has an unapologetic talent for oral sex and a love of drawing penises, runs into unexpected turbulence when her permissive mother (Kathryn Hahn, very good) allows her new boyfriend’s unbalanced son, Luke (Joey Morgan), to move in. The best thing that Erica can say about Luke, fresh out of rehab, is that the overweight youngster doesn’t smell as bad as she expected — though her feelings for her potential stepbrother soon get complicated.
Writer-director Max Winkler keeps things moving along briskly, and when he concentrates on Erica and her strange family dynamics, his film is a refreshingly wry (if brutal) commentary on our societal mores regarding adolescent sexuality. Rarely do American movies stray into such risky territory, particularly with dark humor.
Yet Winkler overdoes things with implausible story machinations in the second half, and the film’s confidence gets a bit shaky. Even Erica gets stranded, both literally and figuratively, though Deutch is such a good performer that we stay engaged.
“Flower” is clearly not everyone’s idea of a bouquet, but it’s willing to take chances — and push buttons. It’s a film that reflects our times, even if it makes us uncomfortable to acknowledge it.
Starring Zoey Deutch, Kathryn Hahn and Joey Morgan. Directed by Max Winkler.
Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, graphic nude drawings, some drug content and a brief violent image. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Bottom line: A film that reflects our times and is willing to take chances