Still from 'Wildflower' | Courtesy of TIFF 2022
Still from 'Wildflower' | Courtesy of TIFF 2022

TIFF 2022: Matt Smukler has created something special with ‘Wildflower’

2022 Toronto International Film Festival

Directed By
Matt Smukler
Jana Savage
Kiernan Shipka, Dash Mihok, Charlie Plummer, Alexandra Daddario, Brad Garrett, Reid Scott, Erika Alexander, Samantha Hyde, Jacki Weaver, Jean Smart, Ryan Kiera Armstrong

Kiernan Shipka is a talent young actress who has vowed us in productions like Mad Men and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. As soon as Matt Smukler’s Wildflower was announced for TIFF, I was excited.

However, what started out as an appreciation for Shipka as an artist took me to a place where I was following a journey of a great ensemble cast.

Wildflower, in a nutshell, follows a young woman (Kiernan Shipka) as she balances watching over her intellectually disabled parents (Samantha Hyde, Dash Mihok) while hoping for an independent life. Inspired by a true story, Wildflower is all about family, priorities, and inner desires, and is a perfect addition to TIFF 2022 line-up.

This isn’t your stereotypical and predictable coming-of-age drama, but one that uses invigorating performances to capture powerful human connections, the humanity in our thoughts, and the circumstances that shape our life’s journey’s.

Emotionally charged performances

Jana Savage’s screenplay is simple yet powerful. Bea (Shipka) narrates her life to you, from the origins of her current predicament till the activities of today. While this film is about Bea’s life, it is more so about her focus which are her parents played by Samantha Hyde and Dash Mihok. There are films that make me want to tear up, and then there are those who leave me with a heavy heart with a blend of emotions. This was the latter. Savage’s story touches your emotions enough to not make you cry, but definitely make you reflect. I thought the film would get slow later down the road, but it kept good pace and kept audiences engaged.

Mihok and Hyde deliver magnificent performances that are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. You feel the simplicity and child-like nature of their characters that just put a smile on your face, while also feeling pain for how the world around them looks down on them. Written off as broken children, their characters show in their continued state of happiness how much joy they get from living, while those around them live in a constant state of stress and worry. It’s almost poetic to see characters live up their lives despite their limitations, showcasing that even with their disability they are very much capable human beings.

Shipka has a powerful performance as Bea, without much surprise to be honest. She has a captivating presence on screen, one that Smukler has captured magnificently in the framework of the film. I also have to give kudos to young Bea actress Ryan Kiera Armstrong. The authenticity of Bea’s need for rapid maturity was on-display by Armstrong. I appreciated the power she established in her character, planting the seeds for Shipka’s subsequent performance.

The supporting cast are a very talented group of people. While each character has varying degrees of screen time in the film, their participation helps the narrative move along and contributes to both Bea’s journey and her parents. I’d list each and every one, but then you’d be reading a book chapter and not a review.

Wildflower | TIFF 2022
‘Wildflower’ | Photo: Courtesy of the production.

We need more stories like Wildflower

I am not going to pretend for one second that I understand what those with limitations and disabilities are going through and feeling. That would be incredibly wrong of me to even insinuate that.

However, as someone who likes to talk to people irrespective of who they are and their backgrounds, I felt this film is a great example of how we can represent those with disabilities in a meaningful and heartwarming way. It made me want to change the way I engaged and interacted with others, which is powerful stuff if a film is making you think that way. It also highlighted the struggles and choices that individuals must make when they default to becoming the caretakers, those who disrespect their own boundaries and abandon themselves to serve the needs of others. The film is powerful stuff, and it delivers all of this with a simple and easy to follow story.

On a personal note, this film also captured the value of family. I felt this was timely and important, as COVID saw the shift in multigenerational living and the bringing together of families. The film showcased the unwavering rigidity of family bonds even with those with intellectual disabilities, amplifying the power of family as a catalyst for character development.

With some of the scheduling challenges this year, I almost missed watching Wildflower at TIFF. Having seen the film now, I would have really regretted it. There is a reason it made our top 10 must-watch films list, and I am glad my instincts about the film were right.

Smukler has made a wonderful film, and I hope it gets a wider distribution for many more audiences to experience and enjoy.

Wildflower plays as part of the Contemporary World Cinema programme at the 47th Toronto International Film Festival. Visit TIFF’s website HERE for all the details on screenings.

Cover Image: Still from Wildflower | Courtesy of TIFF 2022