'Different Flowers': Film Review | Santa Barbara 2017

Courtesy of Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Fulfills expectations, but not much more.

Emma Bell and Hope Lauren co-star along with Shelley Long in Morgan Dameron’s Missouri-set feature debut.

Indiana native Shelley Long returns to feature films and her regional roots in Different Flowers, playing the grandmother of a runaway bride who's trying to reconcile her romantic inclinations with her need for independence. With its relaxed Midwestern charm and female-empowerment storyline, Morgan Dameron’s wedding-themed family dramedy should have no trouble finding a suitable suitor prepared for a committed partnership.

Approaching 30 and facing crucial decisions about career, marriage and family, Millie (Emma Bell) makes a last-second decision to bail on her lavender-themed Kansas City wedding, leaving her groom Charlie (Sterling Knight) awkwardly standing at the altar. Abetted by her enabling younger sister Emma (Hope Lauren), the pair make a beeline for their grandmother’s farmhouse in rural Missouri to wait for the self-inflicted disaster to dissipate a bit. Left to their own devices and installed in their childhood bedroom, the two revert to their juvenile behavior patterns of sisterly bonding and passive-aggressive conflict.

Although Emma claims to be helping Millie deal with the emotional trauma of her separation from her fiance, she’s really just looking for a distraction from her own messed-up life, which includes a recent DUI arrest and ongoing unemployment issues. After meeting hunky urban transplant Blake (Rob Mayes), who’s working nearby for the summer, things begin to look up, but there’s still the issue of Millie’s broken engagement to resolve. So once Grandma Mildred (Long) arrives back home, the girls figure she’ll help them sort things out, but their grandmother has some pretty firm ideas about the young women standing on their own and isn’t about to clean up the mess they’ve made for themselves.

Dameron, a former assistant to J.J. Abrams at production company Bad Robot, has taken note of her mentor’s skillful touch with emotionally loaded material in crafting her two lead characters. Although temperamentally they appear to be opposites, with older Millie behaving more maturely than her impulsive sister, naturally they’re more alike than different. Their divergent perspectives on handling Millie’s breakup provide much of the humor, however, as Emma’s more libertine approach forces Millie to lighten up and consider the brand-new options for her future.

These characterizations are stronger than some of Dameron’s plotting, which too often relies more on coincidence than reasonable motivation. In particular, Millie’s sudden aversion to marriage and loss of faith in Charlie remain largely unexplained and similarly, habitual flirt Emma’s instant attraction to Blake doesn’t seem to require any reasonable justification other than the need to create conflict between the two women.

Bell and Lauren don’t give these contradictions much consideration, however, remaining focused on making their characters appear likable rather than three-dimensional. Bell’s Millie is a classic Type-A personality in full meltdown mode, expressing all of the confusion and frustration inherent in her attempts to deal with unexpected events.

Lauren doesn’t get much opportunity to convert Emma’s sassiness into a full-scale freakout, but it might have helped upend the film’s frequent predictability a bit. Long, who also serves as a producer, makes a welcome appearance as the sisters’ stern but sympathetic grandmother and could have benefited from a more complex role and a greater share of the film’s comedic moments.

Production values are adequate for the pic's clearly constrained budget, and Dameron makes the most of limited locations and the small cast by providing rural Missouri landscapes as a diverting backdrop to much of the action taking place on the road in Emma’s beat-up red Jeep.

Production company: Different Flowers LLC.
Cast: Shelley Long, Emma Bell, Hope Lauren, Rob Mayes, Sterling Knight
Director-screenwriter: Morgan Dameron
Producers: Shelley Long, David Karp, Morgan Dameron
Director of photography: Jordan McNeile
Production designer: Molly Goodman

Music: Chris Westlake
Editor: Nate Orloff
Venue: Santa Barbara International Film Festival

99 minutes