You can know all the elements of a genre that a story will give you, and take it as a bad thing. However, you can also embrace those tried and true pieces of storytelling, and enjoy the new characters going through those familiar patterns. This feels especially true in a coming-of-age story, as many genre tropes are picked from personal experiences. It is easy to see ourselves in many of these stories, whether it’s a best picture winner like CODA, or a more obscure one like The Way Way Back. If the story connects, we praise those elements, and when it doesn’t, we use them as negatives. Wildflower and its filmmaker Matt Smukler seem to know the genre well, and if you’re like me, you’ll appreciate it and all its tropey-goodness.
The story follows Bea Johnson (Kiernan Shipka), whose voice-over narration guides the audience through her life story from birth to graduation. She is the daughter of intellectually disabled parents, and has an extended family who wants to help – but they aren’t quite sure of the best way to do that. Bea has become a matriarch in the house, but she is still trying to figure out what she wants for the rest of her life…all before walking across that stage to get her diploma.
Shipka is definitely a powerhouse performer. While film narration is often viewed as a crutch, her performance comes through – even as a disembodied voice. The reveal as to why the narration and framing of the story we are learning slowly unravel over the course of the film occurs in ways that’ll feel familiar, but still have an impact. Shipka is a clear highlight, and she makes this character work.
The supporting cast is also strong, including Dash Mihok and Samantha Hyde, who play her parents. They are entrusted with the most difficult task of the film, as they play people with an intellectual disability – who are also based on real people. That’s right! This is a coming-of-age story based on a true story. In fact, the director said, “Wildflower was inspired by my family, a family that has enriched my life with their sense of humor, sensitivity, and big-hearted open arms.” It seems great lengths were put into making the story feel authentic while keeping everything respectful.
Other members of the cast include Alexandra Daddario, Reid Scott, Charlie Plummer, Jean Smart, Jacki Weaver, Kannon Omachi, and Brad Garrett. Plummer and Omachi are in many teenage drama scenes, and they are excellent. Plummer has continued to improve in every film role he takes, and he seems to bring a lot of nuance to this character. Daddario and Scott get a big scene with young Bea, played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong, that really clicks with regard to the family aspect.
There are many familiar pieces in Wildflower, but those pieces are used well. The cast delivers, and the story is uplifting. As always, I’m certainly biased towards movies that encourage a person to chase their dreams. This is the reason CODA worked for me as much as this one did. I am a veteran teacher, after all. Wildflower is a solid film and worth your time if you’re a fan of the genre.
Wildflower will be in theaters March 17th and On Demand and Digital March 21st.
Rating: Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy