Wildflower is a wild entry in the list of the better movies of the year. Although it carries all the basic cliches and tropes of a coming-of-age film, there’s something extremely endearing about it that works. One could imagine Kiernan Shipka’s acting may have a thing or two to do with it as well. While she is the star and narrator of the film, we get many perspectives on the whole story, which makes it more engaging and makes us more empathetic toward Bea. Born to a neurodivergent mother and a father with a traumatic brain injury that left him with the mind of a 12-year-old permanently, Bea lives a happy life.
The true story is based on director Matt Smukler’s own niece, who is now in college. What is extra special about this dysfunctional family is that even with all the hardships they go through, at the end of the day, they’re living happy lives. It is true that sometimes we forget what real happiness is as adults, and while that happens to Bea, who is exhausted by age 16, her family reminds her every day that she will be okay.
Bambi was named after her mother’s favorite cartoon, and as Bambi realized she had to look after her mother and do her own chores, she began calling herself Bea. This was a way of detaching from the family that she got made fun of for being a part of. From the voiceover, we can understand that Bea has always been happy. Even with a difficult childhood, letting go of her dog to take care of her mother, and growing up too soon, Bea has always had a jolly time. She goes to a private school, is a great athlete, and is a grade-A student.
As a teenager, Bea works even harder to take care of the family. She works a part-time job, pays the bills, and essentially puts herself in the position of head of the family. Bea’s nature is controlling because, since a young age, she’s had to take care of adults, leading her to take charge of everything. Even in friendship and love, she tends to be that way because that’s all she’s known. If Bea had moved in with her aunt and uncle, her life would’ve turned out boring, and maybe she wouldn’t have been the amazing person she turned out to be because her experiences are what shaped her.
As a neurotypical child born to neurodivergent parents, Bea’s development was very different from others around her. When Bea couldn’t get along with her uncle Ben, he was too stuck on boundaries and rules to notice that she was hurting too. When she almost drowned in the pool, he realized how much she was actually panicking on the inside, and that’s when they became close. Bea is a natural caregiver, and when she meets Ethan, who has recovered from cancer, she feels inclined to help him. It’s a natural tendency for her. Of course, she doesn’t go out of her way to get to know him, but when she sees him in trouble, she immediately goes into caregiver mode.
Bea is really good at being nice to people because of her lifestyle. She makes jokes so Ethan doesn’t feel embarrassed; she covers him up because he’s bleeding; it’s all instinct for her. Ethan is the perfect match for Bea because of how understanding he is of her family and also of Bea herself. They’re both fully available for each other, probably because of their differences, and that’s what makes them work really well. All of Bea’s problems, at the end of the day, are self-inflicted. She doesn’t even consider going to college because she believes that her parents can’t look after themselves. It is Ethan who reminds her that her parents were doing just fine before she was around.
Bea has a lot of pent-up rage against the world that puts her in the position she’s in. She never complained or showed her pain, and she became a stone. This is why she ultimately broke down when her parents were taken to prison, and the hard-earned money she had saved up to do the things she wanted had to be used as bail money. This was the first time Bea had decided to prioritise herself over her parents, and everything had gone wrong, at least according to her. She had made sure her family could be taken care of financially by applying for disability funds, but her father had canceled it out, which really made her furious because she felt like she had to shoulder all the responsibility. What she didn’t understand at that time was that her father wanted her mother to be treated as a whole person rather than be looked at with pity as someone on the spectrum.
Ultimately, Bea’s goals were to be a good daughter and also live her own life simultaneously. The conversation she has with her father about leaving them really drives everything home at the end of the film. Everything that Bea was skeptical about was already taken care of by her father. They would be just fine without Bea, because they not only have each other but also their entire families to look after them whenever required. It’s Bea who is afraid, and she’s finally ready to admit it, pushing herself to go toward her own goals, even if that means leaving her parents behind. Ultimately, Bea learned the best thing in life from her parents: to go after what you want with full force and no inhibitions.