Set in Las Vegas, Nevada, Wildflower unfolds similar to many movies in the coming-of-age genre: a message declaring that it is “inspired by true events,” and of course the immediate voiceover of our lead character—in this case, that’s Bea (Kiernan Shipka, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Running with Sharks). I felt like I was watching a movie based on a book just from the opening scene alone, so in this regard Wildflower screenwriter Jana Savage should be commended for striking the right tone. Almost instantly, we find out that Bea is in a coma, but not even she can remember why. In her comatose state, Bea is surrounded by her loud and rowdy bickering family members; the feeling of being trapped by one’s family circumstances is relatable to just about anyone. What follows is Bea’s recollection of her entire life’s story, from birth to coma, as director Matt Smukler fluctuates back and forth between flashback to those visiting Bea in the hospital.
Though its setup and eventual coming-of-age cliches feel highly familiar, Wildflower manages to effortlessly explore the character Bea in an unglamorous fashion, positioning her as our endearing lead. Shipka has proven herself before, and as Bea, she has never been more assured. In a way, Bea actually reminded me of Ruby in 2021’s CODA. Both are outsiders in their own families; for Bea, this actually translates to her parents being disabled in different ways. She had quite the unconventional upbringing, and now Bea must care for her mom and dad while juggling mounting pressures from work and school at the same time. Where Ruby’s roadblock existed by way of being the only hearing person in her deaf family, Bea’s situation is not quite as dire—as she begins to put their needs before her own in every facet of her life, Bea struggles to stay afloat.
A big clash between the two sides of Bea’s family has existed since the day her mom and dad met. Dueling grandmothers (Jean Smart, Jacki Weaver) were weary about the offspring these neurodivergent individuals would produce. Dad (Dash Mihok) was hit by a drunk driver and has never been the same since, while Mom (Samantha Hyde) was always a bit different from birth. When they do have a baby, they name her Bambi, after Mom’s favorite cartoon—Bea for short! Bea experiences a completely unconventional upbringing, being taught how to drive at the age of ten, yet lacking basic manners and skills such as learning how to swim. Eventually, she is forced to go and live with her aunt (Alexandra Daddario) and uncle (Reid Scott) for a while. This is only after accidentally crashing a car when Bea’s mom mistakenly lets their dog, Godzilla, out, and he gets lost.
As Bea’s life becomes something she had previously only dreamed about, she finally begins to blossom into a real person. She meets Ethan (Charlie Plummer), one of the cutest guys at school who is said to be missing “a ball” due to testicular cancer, and they share an instant connection. Before one can say “basic bitch,” Ethan has asked her to prom, and the two have been dating for months. He even seems to get along with Bea’s parents, too! Bea’s job doing pool maintenance doesn’t seem so bad in retrospect. But then again, how exactly does she end up in this coma?
Once Wildflower finally reveals the truth about Bea, it takes a turn into disturbing territory. Director Smukler wisely knows where to draw the line, and keeps the movie tasteful from beginning to end. The ending is every bit as sweet and saccharine as one would expect, but the feeling of hope is one that I immediately latched onto. If a movie can evoke emotions this strong in spite of treading familiar ground, it may certainly be worthy of celebrating.
Wildflower screened at 2022’s Toronto International Film Festival.