Wildflower is a unique coming-of-age story inspired by true events that center on Bea and her neurodivergent parents. After an accident that leaves Bea comatose in a hospital bed, her childhood through a lens addresses themes of parental rights and neurodivergent culture. Originally conceived as a documentary project, filmmaker Matt Smukler (director and co-writer) and Jana Savage (co-writer) bring Bea’s experiences to life for us to witness in Wildflower.
A Journey:Wildflower shares one of the most unique and inspiring coming-of-age stories in the last decade, maybe longer. The film itself is incredibly engaging and thought-provoking. But perhaps the journey that filmmaker Matt Smukler took to get to this feature produced deserves just as much of a spotlight. Inspired by his niece, Smukler developed Wildflower from a short documentary college entry piece (for his niece) into a festival feature film. An altruistic endeavor that now can be shared on a grand stage in cinema. A victory in every sense of the word.
Mixed Formula: Smukler and Savage’s script still follows the typical teen drama formula that we are used to seeing in other thematically similar movies (think about the success of movies such as The Edge of Seventeen and Lady Bird). However, where some of the less memorable teen tales fail, Wildflower overly succeeds thanks to the stunning performance from Kiernan Shipka as the main protagonist Bea (Bambi) Johnson. Bea has to toe the line between enjoying the innocence of her teenage years and the responsibility of being a caregiver for her parents for most of her life. This obligation of love sculpts Bea as a character that is hard to hate. Shipka acts with maturity and strength — she shines as Bea. Wildflower takes the teen drama formula and fashions it into a refreshing story.
Neurodiversity: In a world that is becoming more aware of those who are neurodivergent, Wildflower comes out in a timely frame. The film has a responsibility to display Bea’s parents in a very honest light. Bea’s parents, Sharon and Derek, also represent two different origins of neurodiversity. Sharon was born neurodiverse, whereas Derek experienced a childhood traumatic brain injury that resulted in his neurodivergence. The importance of being able to illustrate that neurodiversity can have multiple angles of origin is a fulfilled obligation of Smukler’s Wildflower. Dash Mihok does a spectacular job as Derek, and Samantha Hyde delivers the necessary performance as Sharon.
Wildflower has several stunning performances led by Kiernan Shipka. Matt Smukler delivers an incredible drama that ought to springboard accurate depictions of the neurodiverse world in film. This teenage tale tops the genre.