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Wildflower 2022 Movie Review

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Wildflower 2022 Movie Review

Early on in her life, Bea (Kiernan Shipka) realised that her family wasn’t quite the same as that of other kids. The only child of two intellectually disabled parents, Bea already enjoyed a degree of independence when schoolmates were still getting their dinner pre-sliced and their shoelaces tied for them. She was surrounded by warmth and joy, living first in a van and then in a modest house on the fringes of Vegas. But she also felt obliged to take on responsibilities beyond her tender years. This emphatically heartwarming coming of age picture was inspired by the director Matt Smukler’s own family – he already explored in a documentary of the same title the story of his niece, Christine, an honours student who is also the carer for her brain injured parents. The picture explores the chaos and confusion of extended families which find themselves with a common goal but no consensus on how to achieve it. It practically vibrates with the force of its good intentions. But it may be a little too doggedly on message to endear itself to a wider audience.

That’s not to say that it has no potential audience. Representation matters, and depictions of developmental disability and cognitive impairment frequently tend to foreground the limitations rather than the characters themselves. This is a film which redresses the balance somewhat, although it could be argued that Bea’s parents (played by Samantha Hyde and Dash Mihok) are, at times, infantilised as characters. It’s a tricky line to draw however as, since both have pre-teen mental ages, their childlike qualities are to be expected. The first feature from Smukler, who cut his teeth on commercials, Wildflower’s peppy energy and inclusive themes should recommend it to further festivals. Beyond that, it could be of interest to a streaming platform.

An obvious thematic parallel would be with CODA – both films deal with the experience of a gifted non-disabled child of parents with a disability, both films invite the audience to identify with the experience of the non-disabled character rather than that of the disabled parents. It’s worth noting however that the fitness as parents of the deaf couple in CODA is never a matter of doubt, but in Wildflower, the question of Bea’s parents’ ability to raise a child – delicately asked by a care worker following an accident – is central to the story.

The social worker’s interviews with Bea’s nearest and dearest is a device which allows us to explore her life up until this point. And although the investigation is prompted by the fact that Bea is currently in a coma following a mystery accident, Smukler keeps the tone light and chipper; Bea’s voice narrates the story, her astringent adolescent sarcasm cutting through her seemingly unresponsive state.

The picture which forms, through a series of flashbacks, is of a happy, if unusual childhood. The challenges that Bea and her family face are largely financial – although the fact that Bea’s diet is largely based around Oreos suggests room for improvement on the nutrition front. But fortunately her wealthy aunt and uncle offer to finance her education, and Bea is savvy enough to find work to support the family.

The question is, having taken on the role of carer, can she ever leave her parents to fend for themselves? Could she dare to dream of the university option that her school counselor strongly argues for? The outcome will be of little surprise to anyone – for all the embrace and celebration of the unconventional when it comes to family, the film itself rarely deviates from the tried and tested formula of the feel-good teen coming of age narrative.

Wildflower 2022 Movie Review

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Wildflower 2022 Movie Review