Jungleland is a film with a path that’s so well marked and worn, the biggest attraction becomes what a new group of actors can bring to such recognizable characters.
Director/co-writer Max Winkler has two fine ones in the lead. Jack O’Connell is “Lion” Kaminsky, a talented bare knuckle fighter in Boston who’s constantly at the mercy of bad decisions made by his brother Stanley. Yes, Stanley Kaminsky, which doesn’t make you think of Stanley Kowalski at all.
Charlie Hunnam plays Stanley, and he and O’Connell are able to craft an authentic brotherly bond that holds your attention as the film hits one familiar benchmark after another.
Stanley is in deep to a local crime boss (Jonathan Majors) who has a proposition. Go to San Francisco and enter the big Jungleland tournament. If Lion is king, it’s 100 large. And also, take this girl named Sky (Jessica Barden) with you.
Desperation breeds dreams of one big score and a better life. Sky has more secrets than just a fake name. Complications arise.
The storytelling is competent, the performances fine. But we have seen this so many times, contenders and pretenders begin to look pretty similar and you can’t help but wonder what point there is in another round.
Max Winkler’s coming-of-age film, Flower, is one which is filled with a number of confusing and problematic plot turns.
Erica, played by Zoey Deutch, is a 17-year-old girl who is exploring her sexuality while also extorting several men in her community for the oral care she is so fond of providing to them. Erica seems to be as carefree as she is snarky, although we see she is emotionally-reliant on her single mother (Kathryn Hahn) while her father sits in a prison cell.
The plot of the film involves Erica and her friends implementing the old “fellatio-from-a-minor” blackmail scheme against a former teacher (Adam Scott) who was accused of sexually abusing Erica’s new step-brother, Luke (Joey Morgan).
The film becomes increasingly problematic with its blasé attitude toward sexual abuse and even levels of consent. Immediately after Luke suffers from a panic attack, Erica continues to pester her step-brother about letting her perform oral sex on him. It takes him yelling at her before she realizes she has crossed the line.
Later on, Erica and Co. hatch a plan to roofie Luke’s accused abuser and take photos with his unconscious body in order to blackmail him. One would hope a voice of reason would advise the children otherwise or perhaps Erica would come-of-age at this opportune moment and realize the extreme moral fallacy in this decision.
Flower likes to borrow from recent teen comedies as it attempts to mold Erica into a more unruly and vulgar Juno MacGuff. Instead of a quirky hamburger phone, Erica has a pet rat named Titty. Unlike Juno, this film’s main character is increasingly off-putting and irredeemable by story’s end.
She also has a penchant for filling a composition notebook with her illustrations of the male anatomy, a hobby she shares with Jonah Hill’s character from Superbad.
However, as morally-bankrupt as Erica seems in many circumstances, we cannot help but be drawn in by her cocksure attitude. We can thank Zoey Deutch for her ability to play Erica as someone who is endlessly frustrating, undeniably selfish, but also pretty damn endearing. Her entertaining performance is one reason to see Flower.
Nevertheless, the talent of its lead is not enough to save this movie from its bizarre plot-line and questionable treatment regarding sexual assault. It’s likely this movie meant to say much more than it actually does concerning a young woman and her body, consent and fractured families, but it’s hard to find much nuance even when you dig into the soil.