Wildflower: Coming of Age With Intellectually Challenged Parents

I don’t make comparisons between films often, but when a movie like Are You There, God, It’s Me Margaret does such an amazing job as a coming-of-age story, those that follow have a high bar to reach. Despite its excellent ensemble cast, Wildflower does not rise to the same level.  Based on a true story, Wildfire looks at the life of a high schooler raised by her intellectually challenged parents and the dysfunctional extended family dynamics.

Bea (Kiernan Shipka), whose parents named her Bambi, begins life on rocky ground, but if nothing else, her family greatly loves her. Regardless, all the love doesn’t make up for the less-than-desirable living situation and the non-purposeful neglect she experiences growing up. Made to fend for herself mostly, Bea lacks stability, and still, she rises up. Unlike her mom (Samantha Hyde) and dad (Dash Mihok), Bea is brilliant. Her quick wit and resilience help her endure the school mean girl and maneuver the challenges of high school life. Along with best friend Mia (Kannon) and boyfriend Ethan (Charlie Plummer), Bea thrives until the stress of her situation becomes too much for her to handle.

Director Matt Smulker bases his story and characters on his family and fashions Bea after his niece. Screenwriter Jana Savage penned Smulker’s film, and she manages a heartfelt, touching tale. This is not Smulker’s first turn with the story of Bea – he helped his niece with a short film when she applied to colleges and created a documentary as well. He scored big with his cast in Wildflower, including heavy hitters like Jean Smart and Brad Garrett as Bea’s paternal grandparents and Jackie Weaver as her maternal grandmother. The family’s bickering and doting make for some wonderfully droll moments.

Wildflower is now streaming on Hulu and other platforms, and honestly, while it lumbers a bit, is well worth the watch. The film might not have the same social impact as Are You There, God, or Coda’s dramatic appeal, but it shows viewers challenges that are not always at the forefront of mainstream coming-of-age stories. I am placing 3 stars at the top. It works in its exploration of a unique family dynamic and parents with disabilities, and Shipka’s performance is luminous, making the film flourish.  

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