With a premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Director Matt Smukler’s Wildfloweris a coming-of-age comedy-drama with a big heart that also happens to be based on a true story. The film tells the story of Bea, a teenage girl who is just trying to navigate her life while also being the caretaker to her neurodivergent parents. Wildflower has just been released in select theaters and on VOD and digital. In our interview with Director Matt Smukler, he dives into his personal connection to the film, assembling a memorable cast, and some of the filmmaking inspirations he brought to this project.
Watch the interview, listen, or read the transcript below — edited and condensed for clarity:
Let's get rockin' and rollin' here. Matt, let me just for starters congratulate you on Wildflower — great film.
Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.
And for starters, let me ask you a question. You'll probably answer hundreds of times. But just for Borrowing Tape - the website, give us the overall plot of Wildflower, and what inspired you with this story?
Well, Wildflower is about a young woman who is deciding whether or not she should leave and go to college or stay and take care of her parents, one of whom is neurodivergent. Well, I guess both of them. Well, yeah. One is neurodivergent. And one was in an auto accident. And, we don't quite know exactly what's going on. But, something's not quite right.
Yeah, yeah. So, correct me if I'm wrong, but you made a documentary of the same name and the same topic a few years back? What was it like adapting a documentary into a narrative form film?
So basically, the documentary is actually about my niece, Christina. And, so she's this exceptional kid. And obviously, I'm biased, but I think everybody started to come to that same conclusion after seeing some of this footage. And, I wasn't planning on doing this, I wasn't planning on taking the documentary and making it into a feature. It just became very apparent that as I was sewing some of the footage to several people, one of which was Jana Savage, who is my incredible screenwriter, that that's such a unique story and such a unique family. And there might be a more accessible way to share the world, this incredible family. And I think for us, it was really important that we that this wasn't necessarily just something that was based on the documentary, I didn't want to recreate the documentary. And so, we really kind of leaned into this idea that it's inspired by, and let's look at it through a little bit more of a comedic lens, and sort of have some fun with family dysfunction. I mean, I think we all kind of understand what that is. And I think at the end of the day, this is really a coming-of-age story about a girl who just happens to be in a fairly unique family dynamic, but really going through all the same things that lots of us go through, as we're all coming-of-age.
So that slightly answered one of my questions down the line here. So I think I'll just kind of ask it now, but what genre would you put this film under?
Oh, yeah, I would say that it's a coming-of-age dramedy. You know, that to me, is what it is. I think I was inspired by movies like Little Miss Sunshine and Silver Linings Playbook. Those were two movies I remember really kind of well.
Because that actually ties into another question. As a filmmaker, what films or directors even influenced you, what were your influences with creating this film, or just in general, I should say?
Yeah, I mean, look, David O' Russell is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. and I feel like the way he handled mental illness in Silver Linings Playbook was so flawless and so genius and delicate, and authentic that was certainly someone and a movie that really kind of influenced me. I think in terms of handling a true story, in some ways, I Tonya, that Craig Gillespie movie, that was a very unique sort of telling of something that we all thought we knew. And I really loved sort of the originality with which he told that story. So, I think that there were and then just movies like Perks of a Wallflower, in terms of just a beautiful coming of age. John Hughes is somebody that I absolutely love and was hoping, in some capacity to channel, so I think I had lots of sort of legends to lean on and look at their work.
Yeah, good shoutouts there. I want to talk a little bit about the just production — the overall production of this film seems like it was shot around or near Las Vegas, did you shoot out there primarily?
No, I'm glad that you say that. But no, we shot in Santa Clarita and sort of used that as a double for, outside of Las Vegas. And we did go to Las Vegas for I think we were there for 24 hours with a scale back crew and just to get the stuff on the strip that you saw, and then that scene when we're driving, and then obviously, it's sort of one of those the ending moments that I won't give away.
Talk to me real quick about this cast, because this cast seemed like they were family off-camera, too. Like, how did you assemble this team?
This is one of those things where I just wish I knew the secret sauce because I think ultimately, I just got really, really lucky, they just sort of connected to the material. And, you're right, they really did there, it was a wonderful set. And it was a very positive set, and it was full of love. And, I think there's no real reason I can give you other than they responded to the material. And they just liked each other. And we all really got along. And I knew that from the very beginning, I had a bunch of them came to my house, and we kind of hung out and ate some food, and, I was able to watch them behave, and interact as a family. And I just went in after that day feeling so confident that these guys, that the chemistry was so incredible, really, as a group and as an ensemble, you just never know.
Yeah. So I don't want to get too personal. But I felt the film captured the essence of the child/parent dynamic really well with good times and bad times. Is there anything you pulled from your own experiences, whether it's childhood, I don't know if you're a parent or not. But I just felt like someone really got in touch with that side of themselves when making this film. I didn't know if you pulled from any personal experiences for yourself.
No, I really appreciate that. And I do have two kids, myself, and actually, my daughter Penelope, who's 17 wrote two of the songs that are in the movie, and she performed and sang. So I do feel like it was a total family affair, and my son is the kid who ended up trying to get Sharon to buy beer for him outside of the convenience stores. Yeah, I look, I think that I did really lean into it, lots of my own experiences and family anecdotes. And in some ways, in many ways, I was sort of lampooning myself and my wife that you know, cause Joy and Ben are loosely based on us. So I think a lot of that came from real experiences. Okay.
So in closing, look, you've made a film with characters that are neurodivergent, and being that there's a lot of inclusiveness on screen now. What do you think the future holds with kind of telling stories like this or telling stories with characters like these parents?
I really hope that we just kind of can start opening the floodgates. And, I mean, I think that this shows that, certainly we did a worldwide search to find Sharon and Samantha Hyde. I mean, I just think she's incredible. And as a performer, I mean, she, she really can do anything. And so, I think hopefully we are going to be seeing more opportunities for underrepresented folks who are so talented, that's kind of the hope and I think we wouldn't have made this movie had we not found sort of our Sharon. And look, Dash Mihok is also just a superstar, and so talented and has been very vocal, actually, more recently about having Tourette's and what that has meant for him, and in terms of previously hiding this, and now feeling like he's able to kind of talk about it in a very real and honest way. I think this is all really, really great for us moving forward, and hopefully, we'll see more of it.
It is, it is. it was a great film. I'll just cap things off again with just another congratulations to you on the success of the movie.