The San Fernando Valley is a place drowning in sunshine. Bowling alleys still slick with last decade’s wax and pizza parlours filled with sighing high school sweethearts continue to line the long, straight streets that somehow manage to avoid the maddening hustle of the bigger city of Los Angeles lying at its feet. Living here might seem easy. Maybe it is. It’s also way too easy to get up to no good. Just ask director Max Winkler, a native of The Valley, and who could see no better place to set his latest film Flower.
When Winkler (Ceremony) and his writing partner Matt Spicer (Ingrid Goes West) got a writing sample from Alex McAulay about a teenage girl who feels no shame in exploiting her sexuality if it means getting her dad out of jail, producers thought it would remain that, just a sample. Surely, this Erica character was too edgy for audiences. Her sexual outspokenness would be too much coming from such a young girl. Winkler’s response? Why the hell not?
“We feel kids, especially girls, have been famously underappreciated, famously distrusted, and always sort of at the bottom rung of who people are believed and listened to. We felt that spirit in the original script and it felt new to me,” Winkler explains.
While Erica, played by Zoey Deutch, is a lot like other teenagers, she also finds unique ways to spend her time. Sketching the penises of the old gross men she’s blackmailed and trying to be nice to her mom’s (Kathryn Hahn) newest boyfriend Bob (Tim Heidecker) by not bullying him into exile are both ways she passes the hours. She’s rude, she’s crass, but as with a lot of teenagers, she’s afraid of so much more than she lets on.
All of that comes to a head when Bob’s son Luke (Joey Morgan) is released from rehab and is consigned to now live in Erica’s manic familial unit. All Erica’s mom asks of her is to be nice to Luke. So, as Erica takes on the task of fixing the things in Luke’s life that bring him down, she ends up doing a whole lot of breaking. This is her curse.
“I feel like there’s lots of unbelievable movies where it’s all about loss of innocence,” Winkler explains, “but this is almost like a regaining of innocence where she finally becomes a kid and allows herself to be loved purely for the first time. She doesn’t realize it, but she’s searching for love and a connection through complicated ways… through a mother who feels incredible amounts of guilt for not being able to set any boundaries. This idealized version of her father and by the end, her and Luke’s relationship is the healthiest she’s ever had, even though it’s with someone that society would say is rather bizarre.”
After spending so much of his childhood, looking over his brother’s shoulder as he watched movies about boys and men making all the wrong decisions in order to find themselves, Winkler saw potential in Erica, a girl unwittingly trying to make sense of herself by using her body, manipulating the ones around her, and putting herself in serious emotional danger.
“[My brother] had all these great VHS’s, like Risky Business, License to Drive, and they were always sort of male-driven movies, where the guy always got to do all the crazy stuff, have all the character arcs, while the girls were the objects of affection. What I loved about Alex [McAulay’s] script was it was sort of the opposite; the movie sort of ends up becoming a love story in an unconventional way, but it was really just about this girl trying to figure out her world filled with the fear of abandonment.”
Films like Rambo, which gave many young men around the world a role model, of many forms, to strive towards, Winkler didn’t buy into that kind of scene, and thinks that the audiences are moving away from that kind of standard. Suddenly, and especially in the wake of events of the past year with the Weinstein shakedown, Winkler knew it was time for something more. Something Erica.
“The more stories about outspoken and powerful women, the better,” Winkler says, “and the more guys can put themselves in someone else’s narrative, because there’s not a real appetite, nor should there be, for people my age grappling with their existence. Like a cis white male dealing with that just isn’t so interesting anymore for obvious reasons.”
That realization manifested itself into a very particular vision for Winkler and his set. He knew, as said cis white male, that telling the story about a 17-year-old girl who’s exploring her power and powerlessness in this world would be dishonest and disillusioned. So, he called in the troops.
“You know, having a female cinematographer (Carolina Costa) really helps eliminate the male gaze as much as possible, as well as production designer (Tricia Robertson), wardrobe designer (Michelle Thompson), and editors (Sarah Beth Shapiro),” Winkler says. “And again, I’m not doing it to get a pat on the back. I’m doing it to serve this story, because I felt I really wanted to be the one to tell this story, but I didn’t want to eliminate myself from the conversation by not directing this and letting someone else direct it. It’s such a special character, but I knew the best way to do it would be to surround myself with just really badass women who could tell me if I was ever going off and making decisions that were not in character.”
Furthermore, Winkler had feminist literature littering the sets for cast and crew to dive into between breaks, to immerse and inspire the movement of the film. A reading list full of Kate Millet and Go Ask Alice was dispersed so everyone knew where the spirit of Flower was coming from. And from that, the production took off in many directions that Winkler never intended, and that’s exactly what he was hoping for.
Winkler explains, “I surrendered a lot of control on this film, and in that I got a lot of control back by just focusing really hard on who I was hiring, the actors, the cast, and the crew members. Like once I hired them, I really surrendered a lot of control and wanted their voices to be heard. It’s not a singular voice behind this project--I’m there to help steer the ship and call bullshit on things that feel false, but everyone in this particular movie-- I mean we made this movie for half a million dollars, and the fact that it’s coming out in theaters is humbling. It’s not because anyone got paid a lot on this film, it’s because people really cared and really wanted to do a service to Erica and that character. There’s something really freeing about not controlling every process of the film and really allow the collaboration to work.”
From self-educating, to creating an open dialogue with all crew members on set, Winkler found a collective language to embrace Erica’s journey. Flower, despite its name, is not about comfort, it’s not something we’ve all seen. And that’s just the way we like it.
Flower opens in Los Angeles on March 16. Coming soon to a theatre near you! For theatre locations and to purchase tickets, visit
Los Angeles - March 16 (Expands 3/23 and 3/30)
New York City - March 16 (Expands 3/23)
San Francisco/Berkeley - March 23
Dallas - March 23
Houston - March 23 (Expands 3/30)
Austin, TX - March 23
Washington, DC - March 23
Philadelphia - March 23
Miami - March 30
Atlanta - April 6