TIFF '22 Review: 'Wildflower' balances teen comedy with heart-warming family drama – Digital Journal

TIFF '22 Review: 'Wildflower' balances teen comedy with heart-warming family drama – Digital Journal

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‘Wildflower’ begins with its protagonist in a coma, reflecting on her young life as a teenager and caregiver
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‘Wildflower’ begins with its protagonist in a coma, reflecting on her young life as a teenager and caregiver.
Some kids don’t end up with the most responsible parents. That doesn’t mean they don’t love their children, but for one reason or another, they have trouble adulting. It’s not necessarily a matter of neglect, but remembering to pay the bills or pick up groceries or go to a doctor’s appointment is a constant challenge. Therefore, their child can either rebel at their parents’ ineptitude or pick up the slack by tracking all those duties themselves. In Wildflower, a teenage girl chooses the latter and it occasionally proves too much for a kid to take.
Bea’s (Kiernan Shipka) parents (Dash Mihok and Samantha Hyde) are cognitively challenged, but they are defiantly independent and love each other immensely — and they love her just as much. Her childhood was a bit unconventional with the word “special” being thrown around a lot, but it was happy. However, when Bea reached a certain age, she came to the realization that her life was not like others and special was not always being used positively, so she started taking on more responsibilities at home. By the time she’s a senior in high school, she’s managing all their lives — as well as dodging the guidance counsellor encouraging her to apply to college, practicing with the track team, hanging out with her best friend, Nia (Kannon), and falling in love with the new boy in school, Warren (Charlie Plummer). Unfortunately, when the story begins, Bea is in a coma.
A large part of this narrative is just about a middle-class young woman who is attending an upper-class private school, cleverly navigating the mean girls who regularly remind her she’s not rich like them. She does pool maintenance and is saving for a school trip. She and her best friend conspire to get into the cool kids’ party and mutually agree to boycott prom. Her boyfriend is in remission and they can’t keep their hands or lips off of each other. He loves everything about her, including her family. But it’s her family that somewhat sets the narrative apart. Bae accepts and loves her neurodivergent parents for who they are, even if she’s not keen on introducing them to a lot of people. But the people closest to her, the people that matter, know and accept them too.
Some people may feel this film is perpetuating ableism, but it is a reflection of someone’s lived experiences. Director Matt Smukler’s sister and brother-in-law are cognitively challenged and the narrative is based on his niece’s life, including the mysterious coma. It may seem as if the parents are being infantilized, but it’s also key to remember they both have regressed intellects. In addition, the picture focuses more on the characters rather than their limitations.
The story is from Bea’s perspective as she takes in the happenings at her bedside and reflects on her young life while in a state of unconsciousness. She’s a witty young woman, and tells her tale with humour and adept self-awareness. In the meantime, a social worker interviews those closest to Bea, including her parents, warring grandmothers (Jean Smart and Jacki Weaver) and friends, none of whom can explain what happened, but all of whom have high opinions of the teen.
There is a lot happening in this coming-of-age dramedy, but life is complicated. The key is presenting it in a way that’s compelling, meaningful and entertaining — and Wildflower is all of those things.
Wildflower had its world premiere in the Contemporary World Cinema programme at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Read other reviews from the festival.
Director: Matt Smukler
Starring: Kiernan Shipka, Charlie Plummer and Alexandra Daddario
Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal’s Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.
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