HNS recently sat down and spoke with Flower actress Zoey Deutch and writer/director Max Winkler at one of Hollywood’s classic hotels – the Roosevelt Hotel. We talked all things teenage vigilantes, activism, unexpected love and so much more. Though I tried to minimize it, please be warned – SPOILERS AHEAD!
Synopsis: Rebellious, quick-witted Erica Vandross (Zoey Deutch) is a 17-year-old firecracker living with her single mom Laurie (Kathryn Hahn) and mom’s new boyfriend Bob (Tim Heidecker) in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. When Bob’s mentally unbalanced son Luke (Joey Morgan) arrives from rehab to live with the family, Erica finds her domestic and personal life overwhelmed. With Luke and her sidekicks Kala (Dylan Gelula) and Claudine (Maya Eshet) in tow, Erica acts out by exposing a dark secret of high-school teacher Will (Adam Scott), with perilous results; their teenage kicks become a catalyst for growing up in unexpected and unpredictable ways. Mixing dark comedy and teenage angst writer-director Max Winkler (CEREMONY) and co-writer Matt Spicer (INGRID GOES WEST) re-imagine an unproduced script by Alex McAulay, creating a star vehicle for blossoming talent Zoey Deutch (BEFORE I FALL, WHY HIM?) and elevating the teen movie to new heights.
*Interview conducted with multiple media outlets.
Without giving too much away, I’ll be blunt – the film’s opener is a jaw-dropping one. From the second the screen lights up and the story begins, you become pretty captivated by the vulgarity of it all. It opens with our lead character, Erica, performing a sex act on an unexpected character. This might be shocking and attention grabbing for sure, but this isn’t actually what Winkler wants the audience to focus on. “I think what’s more interesting is the second thing that she does. She takes his money. And takes him for everything he’s got. And extorts him for his abuse of power.” This sets the stage for the biggest plot of the film – Erica is a teenage vigilante.
This is a trend that continues on throughout the entirety of the film, and was written with so much truth to how 17 year olds actually talk that it was both shocking and refreshing. Films often sugarcoat or play down the dialogue between teenagers to make it more… family friendly. But this film did the exact opposite and embraced the unapologetic and “zero fucks given” attitude of our teenage protagonist. Deutch explains of her character, “she’s a teen vigilante taking revenge on an alleged child molester and she’s morally ambiguous. She is fragile and complicated and quite frankly very frustrating at times, which I think speaks honestly to being a teenager. I know for myself, I was very frustrated and frustrating so I can relate to that element of her character.” Winkler echoes this and responds that he feels literally the same.
Flower was filmed in the San Fernando Valley – for all the non-Los Angeles natives, this is essentially the suburbs that’s within LA County but also kind of far from the rest of the city. The setting of the Valley was something that was important to Winkler and something that felt like a character of its own. Both Winkler and Deutch are from the Valley and this influenced them both in different ways. “The Valley was a huge influence on me growing up and I mean I rode bikes and hung out and my parents were really strict and so I had to go to as many friends who had like looser parents on rules and hang out in their garages and plot.” For Deutch, the Valley brought her a different problem, “I have worked hard to eliminate that Valley accent,” Deutch jokes, “It’s not the most charming thing to listen to when you’re trying to transcribe from this interview later, and I also talk really fast as a result of being from the Valley.”
Being in the Valley does present its set of charms though. If you’re looking for some good hang out spots in the Valley, these two have you covered. For Winkler, he frequented Winnetka Bowl and the Sports Center in Studio City. Deutch would go to an ice skating rink that later got a bar, which was all the rage at the time. But unlike their characters in the film, don’t expect their real-life bowling game to be on point. Deutch laments, “Well I play a game called reverse bowl, which is you put bumpers up and whoever gets the worst score wins. Now it’s hard to lose-win when the bumpers are up, because you play so well with the bumpers up so it’s reverse bowl. You all go over there – right there – and try it. It aint easy.” She’s pointing to the bowling lanes that we’re sitting across from. Because the amazing Roosevelt Hotel has a bowling alley and that’s where we, very appropriately, meet up to discuss the film.
In the film, Erica sort of becomes an activist. She is very passionate about calling out people who are doing wrong and seeking justice. This is something that Deutch can totally get behind as she has become quite the activist herself. (Winkler vouches for this.) “I feel very passionately. Something that Gloria Steinham said, she said, ‘you can do anything but you can’t do everything’ and it spoke volumes to me about this moment where I feel overwhelmed with a desire to make change and to do something and I think that I’ve talked to a lot of my friends and fellow millennials and they feel similarly and when I heard that, it was so powerful to me because it became so clear what that one thing was that I was so passionate about and that’s reproductive health and women’s rights. Which seems like not a niche – it’s a very large category of course, but that is the thing I really focus on and am very passionate about and I work with Planned Parenthood and I recently went to Sacramento and spoke on Capitol Hill on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and I went and talked to legislators and assembly members,” Deutch states.
Being an activist is something that is without a doubt scarier to Deutch than acting. “I would never claim to be particularly well spoken. But it was super informative and meaningful and it is a funny thing when you come to terms with the fact that you have chosen a career path that you’re constantly forced to make everything about you, or you’re asked to make things about you and when you realize that and you go, ‘oh shit, I don’t know if I want to make everything about me,’ and I have found that it’s been neat to be able to shed a light on something that’s bigger than me,” Deutch explains. A sign of their true friendship, Winkler often helps her write speeches, something she credits to his great writing skills. “I have a panic attack if I have to like construct an email,” Deutch explains.
A bit of a mystery behind the film was its title. We asked Winkler about it and got some clarification. Winkler replied, “The original writer, the first writer of it whose genius was a guy named Alex McAulay and he called it Flower, and I never asked him why because I loved it so much. And I’ve come to interpret it two ways. One, flowers look very delicate but are actually extremely resilient and can make their way through any kind of season or change and last, and really tough flowers can have these roots that grow underneath that are really, really strong and are very different than their exterior which I kind of always imagined for Erica. And I think Zoey’s as a character, Erica really finally blooms and she becomes almost a kid again in a way, she almost like sort of allows the weight on her back to be removed and blooms back into a child that’s kind of regained its innocence.”
Erica’s parallel in the film can be seen in her step brother – turned friend – turned partner in crime – turned love interest. These two characters couldn’t be less alike. We asked Winkler what the process of writing these two characters was like, and if one was harder to write for than the other. It was easy for him to have that answer. He elaborates, “It took more confidence to write the Luke character I think because he really uses words sparingly. Erica uses words as a crutch and a way to remove herself from situations and intimate – anything that could cause her to be sort of seen for who she really is and Luke is the opposite. He really just shows up, and as he comes out of his shell throughout the movie, he starts to get more language, but sometimes less is more, and they’re both characters that are extremely damaged and wounded and they wear it in completely different ways, opposite I guess. And Luke was hard to write, because it feels inactive if you’re writing someone who doesn’t speak a lot. But then when you actually see that kid whose got this amazing face and this wonderful fragile nature about him, and this tenderness you realize he really doesn’t have to say a lot.”
One spoiler alert I will say is that Jake Johnson (New Girl) plays Erica’s dad in the film. We see him in pictures, but he’s never actually onscreen. Winkler worked with Johnson on multiple projects in the past, so he wanted to include him somehow in the film, even if he wasn’t able to be filmed [because the story doesn’t really call for it]. “He’s somebody I’ve worked with in everything I’ve ever done, and it felt weird making a movie without him, and I loved the idea of having Jake in that moment because it leads the audience to believe that he’s gonna show up at the end which is really important and I think if it was someone else who was a generic person’s face, you’d think like oh he’s never gonna show up, but we’re supposed to have the same idealism as Erica and believe that he’s gonna be there.” Funnily, Deutch has never met Johnson in real life, but this was going to change later that evening at the premiere, Winkler revealed.
Though Adam Scott plays our antagonist, he has a great chemistry and a unique dynamic with Deutch onscreen. “I think Adam Scott’s character is very confronting to her. I think she feels a lot of shame because she’s not quite sure if she wants to take him down or if she has a crush on him. And that’s very embarrassing. Embarassing thing to have to confront with yourself especially if you’re not even sure who you are,” explains Deutch. “It’s the only time of the movie where Zoey kind of loses her professional business act, it’s when Adam Scott touches her knee. And you realize it’s the first time anyone’s ever really touched her skin before that’s not her mom and she completely freaks out,” says Winkler. Though it’s not explicitly said, they both believe this to be Erica’s first kiss. “That’s why it was important that the girls’ reaction in the car and Joey’s reaction in the car had to be very shocked,” responds Deutch.
Erica’s dynamic with Joey, on the other hand, is very different, and it’s different because of her own doing. “Erica is somebody who suffers from such a deep fear of abandonment, that she is willing to destroy and hurt anybody before they ever come close to hurting or destroying her. She will – that’s her go-to. She is not willing to feel pain, and in turn, she’s not willing to feel love. You can’t feel love if you’re not willing to feel pain,” she explains. This dynamic remains throughout the duration of the film up until the end. Their pairing is a different relationship than she’s ever had, and this teaches her. “With Joey’s character, it’s where she learns how to regain her innocence. So many coming of age movies that I love, and I’ve made a few, where it’s about the loss of innocence. It’s about a teenager losing their innocence and this movie through and through to me, is about the regaining of innocence. About learning how there’s strength in vulnerability and that’s what Joey’s character shows her.” It’s a surprising love story of a very mismatched couple on the surface, but the writing and the performances of the actors sell it, and you’ll find yourself rooting for them. Finally, a story where the shy, overweight boy gets the pretty girl. Trust us, you’ll want to be along for the ride.
‘Flower’ hits select theaters in New York and Los Angeles on March 16th, and nationwide on March 23rd.