I don't think it was even five minutes into writer/director Morgan Dameron's feature film debut Different Flowers that I found myself shedding a tear, though I'm not really sure if it was a tear of sorrow or of joy or of, perhaps, quiet familiarity. Whatever the reason, it was a feeling I felt often throughout Different Flowers, a lovely little film that is an official selection in the Narrative Feature section and maybe most noteworthy for native Hoosiers for having been produced by Indiana native and Emmy Award-winning actress Shelley Long.
The film stars Emma Bell (Walking Dead, Season One) as Millie, a bride-to-be soon to be married to Charlie (Sterling Knight), a seemingly decent enough young man whose visions of the ole' white picket fence just don't quite jibe with the Millie's higher aspirations for her own life. Getting something more than cold feet, Millie leaves her fiance' at the altar and heads off for a Midwestern adventure with her more spirited and adventurous sister, Emma (Hope Lauren, The Valley).
Much of Different Flowers is, indeed, a road flick. While road flicks have been done to death, when they're done well they tend to be incredibly entertaining and meaningful films and such is the case with Different Flowers, a film that benefits greatly from the believably authentic chemistry between the more self-sacrificing Millie and the free-spirited Emma. While these types of differences can feel manufactured, as portrayed here they feel like rich character development and merely different branches of the same family tree.
That's the thing, really.
I loved every moment of Different Flowers. Dameron has crafted a film that exudes a sort of genuine love and familial bond that is far too incredibly rare in contemporary cinema. The film is feminist, I suppose you could say, but it's feminist in a sort of internalized way that feels honest and true.
Of course, it helps to have such a wonderful cast. Emma Bell is an absolute gem as Millie, hitting all the right notes as a young woman whose character deepens as the film progresses and whose entire being shifts from body language to costuming to even the way she delivers her lines. It's a low-key, truly wonderful performance.
The same is true, in different ways, for the delightful Hope Lauren. Tasked with portraying the more spirited of the two sisters, Lauren wonderfully avoids the usual one-note caricatures we so often see with such a character. Instead, Lauren turns in a performance that runs magnificently parallel to that of Bell, displaying a sisterly bond even amidst all their obvious differences.
If there's one thing that's most refreshing of all, it's that Dameron avoids assigning your stereotypical "bad guy" role to anyone in the film. While there are certainly conflicts to be found, they aren't grounded in judgment and instead work to the benefit of the story itself. It's refreshingly honest, mature writing that feels like a true family tale and a true tale about personal growth and empowerment.
Different Flowers picked up the Heartland - Best Narrative Feature prize at the Kansas City FilmFest and was nominated for another prize at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. It's a film that should prove to be mighty popular with the Heartland Film Festival audiences as it is both immensely entertaining and radiates the values that Heartland Film Fest holds most dear.
Kudos must given to Jordan McNeile for top notch lensing, while I'd be remiss to not mention the stellar costuming by Heidi Bowles and, quite honestly, the work of the entire production team.
Dameron, who has wworked an assistant to J.J. Abrams on several films including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and the Star Trek films, has clearly learned quite a few things along the way and has an artistic vision that is desperately needed in Hollywood. Both entertaining and immensely moving, Different Flowers is an indie gem and one of the 2017 Heartland Film Festival's most rewarding views.
For more information on Heartland Film Festival screenings, visit the Heartland Film website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic