NEW YORK -- A new movie now streaming on Hulu is being hailed as a landmark for the way "Wildflower" depicts neurodivergent adults: people who face intellectual challenges like autism, dyslexia, and other such conditions.
An all-star cast led by Kiernan Shipka as "Bea" and including Jean Smart, Brad Garrett, Alexandra Daddario, and others bring this fine movie to life, and the actors playing the parents are neurodivergent in real life. The movie was made with the assistance of the neurodivergent community, and some of its leaders have expressed support for the honest way "Wildflower" shows characters with intellectual disabilities.
The picture is being called an "endearing coming-of-age movie" and a "beautiful story of strength and resilience." Bea tells us early on, "Growing-up I was told my parents were special. When I got old enough, I realized that's the word adults use when someone has a disability."
She is a very bright high school student who looks after her parents and must cope with their limitations. "The beauty of this story is she had to grow up a lot quicker," says Dash Mihok who plays her father, "but underneath she knows that love is all there is, and that's what matters in life."
The power of "Wildflower" lies in how honestly Bea's specific challenges are shown. As she says angrily at one point, "Real parents don't need their kids to bail them out of jail!" Adding to the impact here is the fact her parents are played by performers who face mental challenges in real life, and the characters are inspired by relatives of director Matt Smukler, who took the traditional advice to write what he knew.
Shipka impressed me as wise beyond her years when she acted in "Mad Men" as a child, but now as an adult, she is capable of moving me to tears when speaking realistic dialogue. "My whole life," Bea says wearily, "I've been torn between wanting to get away from my parents, and wanting to care for them."
Some of the absurdities of her character's situation got me laughing, but overall the movie left me in awe of this star's amazing talent as I was thrilled by the other big names working alongside her. "It's romantic. It's sad and incredibly entertaining," says Jean Smart who adds she was, "just so happy to be part of this story."
"Wildflower" warmed my heart and soothed my soul. In part, that's because one of my cousins is autistic, and I gained more understanding of him through watching this film. But, putting sentiment aside, I must speak as a film critic and simply urge you to watch this movie, which is one of the best of the year.
"Wildflower" is streaming now on Hulu-owned by the same parent company as ABC 7.