Matt Smukler’s 2022 ‘coming-of-age’ comedy-drama, Wildflower, is a warm and humorous narrative about a maladjusted family that somehow manages to stay intact despite some of the most profound challenges that life throws at them. At the center of the plot is a girl named Bea, who was born to parents Sharon and Derek, who suffer from intellectual ineptness. Employing various flashbacks and jump cuts throughout the film, the narrative showcases the experiences of a child who grows up taking care of her parents and, in the process, takes up the role of the adult in the family. Wildflower (2022) marks the director’s feature film debut and employs a cast of significantly talented actors, including Kiernan Shipka, Alexandra Daddario, Samantha Hyde, Dash Mihok, Jean Smart, Jacki Weaver, Charlie Plummer, Brad Garrett, and Kannon Omachi.
The story, which is inspired by true events, begins with a comatose Bea having mysteriously been admitted to a hospital as her family gathers around her hospital bed to discuss the probable causes of her state. As her parents, her grandparents, and her uncle and aunt squabble among themselves, Bea, who is unconscious, recollects the events that may have led to the present situation, becoming the narrator of the story. She begins by narrating how her parents got together. Her father, Derek, was not born with a disability, but he had suffered an accident at age twelve, which severely affected his mental growth, and her mother, Sharon, was born with a partially developed brain. Derek did odd jobs to sustain himself as a teenager, and on one such occasion, he was hired by Sharon’s parents to mow their lawn when Sharon, also a teenager, became infatuated with him. She had asked him out on a date against her father’s wishes and ended up getting married right after. Extremely worried about their children’s future and the uncertainty of their married lives, both Derek and Sharon’s parents engage in a hilarious debate about how they should resolve the issue. While Sharon’s parents want a divorce for their daughter, Derek’s mother, Loretta, who is against the concept, angrily fires at them, saying that Sharon should be ‘sterilized’ to prevent childbirth, enraging Peg, Sharon’s mother, who suggests that they should neuter Derek if childbirth is the real issue, and the farcical argument goes on. Soon after, the couple has a baby and names her Bambi, or ‘Bea’ for short.
Against the wishes of Sharon’s parents, Derek and Sharon leave their house with little Bea and begin living in a van until they find a new house that will be their own. Growing up, Bea had to learn to take care of herself from a very young age, and her father taught her to drive when she was just ten years old, so she would not be helpless in case of an emergency. As motivation, Derek had gotten her a dog, whom she named Godzilla. One morning before going to work, Sharon had left the house door open, and Godzilla ran away. Bea, considering it an emergency, chased after the dog in her father’s truck but inevitably crashed it as she couldn’t reach the brake pedal in time. When asked about the incident by a social worker, being quite mature for her age, she had lied, saying she was not driving, but had come to the realization that she could not take care of her parents and the dog as well, and decided to give Godzilla away. In stark contrast to her parents, Bea turns out to be a gifted young lady with an acute sense of responsibility. She is a straight-A student who ran track, played soccer, took care of her parents, and also earned her own money by selling raffle tickets after school. She falls in love with a boy named Ethan, who is a cancer survivor, and in him, she finds the only other companion in her life she can really count on, aside from her childhood friend, Nia. In spite of being a gifted student-athlete and having perfect SAT scores, she is afraid of applying to the best colleges in the country, and her school counselor helps her get some direction, suggesting she apply to the University of California, where her talents would be appreciated. But the fear of leaving her parents behind hinders her decision, and she decides not to apply.
Back in the hospital where Bea had been admitted, the doctor diagnosed a potential brain injury and declared that depending on the severity of the concussion, her mental acuity may be affected, which she, although still unconscious, had heard. Even though she loves her father, the innocent child in her feels afraid of turning out like her father, who suffered a similar injury in his childhood. Returning to the narration of her past, she recalls telling her counselor that she would not be going away to college and getting into an argument with Ethan, who had broken up with her since she was not willing to take charge of her future and had blamed her for having a god-complex, enjoying the power that she apparently exerted over her parents, using them as an excuse to not pursue her true path. She recalls being depressed for having missed prom night at school since Ethan had broken up with her and her best friend Nia had gone without her. Trying to drink herself out of her misery, she had set out to sell raffle tickets at night when a couple of senior guys from a previous party invited her into their car, and one of them tried to take advantage of her as she was drunk. Being afraid for her life, she tried to jump out of the moving car, and when they finally stopped the car, she remembers struggling with one of them when she fell and hit her head on the ground. Afraid of getting into trouble, the guys had left her on the bench in front of the hospital, and that is how she ended up comatose.
Bea finally regains her consciousness after days of battling for her life, and it turns out to be an emotional moment for her family. Ethan visits her in the hospital and reconciles with her, blaming himself for her condition, but Bea comforts him by saying that he is right about her being afraid of going away. She slowly recovers and returns to her normal self, with one small change in her outlook. She was now ready to take the next step in her life. Confident that her parents were capable of taking care of each other, she applied to UCLA and was accepted, making her family, her school counselor, and Ethan proud. After her high school graduation, the whole family goes out for a celebratory brunch, where Bea offers a toast to her family for being together despite all the different challenges and admits that she loves them dearly. In the end, Bea finally realizes that she had only judged her parents for what they couldn’t do but had never given them credit for just being themselves and being happy with who they were, confessing that they were truly free and leading the life that they wanted to live without paying heed to what others had to say about their limitations.