The Reel Review


An exceptionally bright teenager tries to juggle high school honors courses, track and field, and a full-time job with taking care of two intellectually disabled parents, in this coming-of-age dramedy starring Kiernan Shipka, Jean Smart and Alexandra Daddario. Wildflower is based on director Matt Smukler’s 2020 documentary about his own niece and her parents.

Kiernan Shipka in Wildflower

If you’ve seen 2022 Best Picture Oscar winner CODA, about a hearing daughter taking care of her deaf parents and adult brother, you already have the straightforward, how-can-I-leave-you premise of Wildflower, with one key difference. These parents – one who suffered a traumatic brain injury at age 12 and the other with only a partially developed brain – have the mental capacity of teenage children. The weakest part of the film is the clunky screenplay from Jana Savage (Praise This), which shoehorns the story via flashbacks by its comatose main character Bea, in an ironic head injury subplot. Oddly, in going out of her way to avoid sentimentality over a child burdened with taking care of her loving but childlike parents, her story lacks emotional heft.

Alexandra Daddario, Jacki Weaver, Reid Scott, Jean Smart, Kiernan Shipka and Dash Mihok in Wildflower

Nevertheless, Shipka gives a convincing, winsome performance, supported by a terrific Jean Smart (Hacks) as Grandma Peg, the emotional center of the family, Alexandra Daddario (The White Lotus) as the well-meaning, neurotic aunt and Charlie Plummer (Lean on Pete) as Bea’s cancer survivor boyfriend. One touching, pivotal scene has Smart and Jacki Weaver (Poms, Animal Kingdom) both celebrating their adult children’s joy while quietly mourning the circumstances that robbed them of neurotypical lives. At an hour and 45 minutes, the unfocused Wildflower overstays its welcome by at least 20 minutes, although its sensitivity, thought-provoking subject matter and well-timed humor deftly navigates what easily could have been a tone-deaf disaster.


Christina Stahl (left) and her parents Mike and Sheila (right) from the 2020 documentary, Wildflower.

• Director Matt Smulker’s feature film and its preceding 2020 documentary came after he agreed to make a video about his niece Christina for her college applications, only to discover the unique set of challenges she faced in supporting her parents while living her own life.

• Kiernan Shipka’s screen credits include Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Feud, and Mad Men.

Samantha Hyde and Dash Mihok in Wildflower

• Samantha Hyde, who plays Bea’s mother in the film, is on the autism spectrum.


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