REVIEW: April Flowers [2017]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 85 minutes | Release Date: 2017 (USA)
Studio: Myopia Pictures
Director(s): Christopher Tedrick
Writer(s): Christopher Tedrick

“I’m not afraid of love if that’s what you mean”

When writer/director Christopher Tedrick scholarly describes his film April Flowers as being based on the idea that the 21st century is an “Era of Choice”—a term coined by Temple Associate Professor Edward C. Rosenthal in an MIT-published paper—romance isn’t necessary the first thing that springs to mind. And yet romance is quite possibly the most relevant and universal example to use for this idea of infinite opportunities causing crippling stress and fear. Just think about it. We live in an age where the world has quite literally become flattened thanks to technological advances and the internet. We can “date” someone thousands of miles away before ever meeting them. So how can you choose someone with flaws when the potential “one” is still there to be found?

The easy answer is life. You don’t choose a flawed human over a perfect one. You don’t settle for that companion knowing another exists. There’s no real comparison except to an ideal your mind creates—a fantasy that has never manifested itself in the real world. To hold this notion of “better” is to self-sabotage. One false encounter or one bad day forces you to move on rather than use that misstep to discover something new about the person or maybe even yourself. To covet perfection because the world provides endless possibilities is to never see what’s in the now. And it works the opposite way too. To stay in your current dead-end job because others are probably worse is to prevent yourself from discovering whether that’s true.

So we drown in the unknown because the potential for extremes either better or worse is stronger than living in the moment. We fear there’s better, refusing to tie ourselves down to mediocrity. And we fear there’s worse, deciding to embrace mediocrity and accept it as a luxury we may lose. Life becomes a never-ending cycle of seeing a future we cannot know will come true rather than allowing ourselves to forge that future with actual opportunities presented to us. It’s something we all face, but some more than others due to psychological issues of abandonment, low self-esteem, or social anxiety. As such it isn’t something that can be fixed through acknowledgment. Sometimes you must experience that worst possible outcome to realize the now is all we have.

And that’s where we meet April’s (Celina Jade) self-conscious introvert prone to the boredom isolation presents who lives for what might come. So when a stranger drops his journal on the subway, the romanticism of who its owner could be is born. She reads a few pages and then the entire thing, this anonymous man proving well written, troubled, and emotionally lost like her. April has found a kindred spirit, evidence that the Prince Charming she’s sought through numerous, possibly prematurely ended relationships is alive, well, and just over the bridge in Queens. But what happens if she meets someone else before identifying this enigma? Can she ever love Jared (Jon Fletcher)—a real person who loves her back—if her heart still pines for her mystery author?

On the surface April Flowers looks like another run-of-the-mill romcom with April messing things up with Jared while she pines for the impossible. The journal seems like gimmicky device to throw a wrench in her happiness and best friend Laura (Kate Middleton) appears for comic relief, pushing her towards tangible options. Surprisingly, however, Tedrick’s film proves much deeper than such contrived tropes. I won’t lie and say Jade’s performance is consistently natural or that some dialogue doesn’t teeter on devolving into sentimental dreck wherein the lead woman is “nothing without a man to love,” but these are rarities amongst a wealth of authenticity. The first example comes when Laura explains her opinion on love being a sham (despite being married). It’s a heartfelt, complex conversation I didn’t expect.

There are more afterwards. Jared and April discussing a song he deems “the most romantic ever,” a scene moving from trite argumentation to believable marker of emotional baggage on both sides; a kindly stranger at the park (Keir Dullea) waxing philosophically on mortality opens April’s eyes to memory and the past as a way to acknowledge the present before prospective futures. At times the film does risk becoming too Christian-tinged spiritual, but Tedrick never quite falls for full-blown sermonizing to alienate audiences. He deals with experience beyond mere dialogue and the complications of what it means to battle between what is and what might be. He provides differing opinions to help highlight his “Era of Choice” theme. April hears it all, but she’s still not ready to accept.

That only comes from completing the soul-searching journey sprung from the misplaced journal. It leads her towards encounters she never imagined (Trevor Kluckman showing how Craigslist is never quite a “wholesome” venue), introductions with people she could open up to if only she found the strength (Jared’s good guy whose overzealous nature could be tweaked rather than full-on rejected with some compromise), and a scavenger hunt towards a truth nowhere near the idyllic one she held in her mind (both Mia Dillon‘s Ms. Moore and Sean Cullen‘s Fr. Randy supplying her food for thought in these short yet precious lives we lead). It’s the messiness of reality removed from daydreams of hopeful optimism that grounds us into re-contextualizing our worth and desires. Fate is sometimes about letting go.

Jade plays April as an effective guide through the film’s themes. She’s cutely endearing, relatable in her awkward stubbornness, and as flawed as those she hurriedly discards. The quieter moments are where she struggles somewhat, but that’s to be expected with an actor used to martial arts films uninterested in tonal nuance. Fletcher is likeable in Jared’s own awkwardness, similar to April in perhaps the complete opposite way. And both Dullea and Cullen lend sage maturity despite brief screen time. The scene-stealer, however, is Middleton as Laura. More complicated than the clichéd supportive friend trope she embodies, she’s the pragmatist to April’s idealist and thusly the perfect complement. Each of these actors proves to be just real enough to ensure Tedrick’s fantastical whimsy never derails his poignant honesty.

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