By Phil Hall | February 18, 2007

There is a single reason to check out Eric Tretbar’s indie feature “The Horrible Flowers”: the astonishing star turn by Emily Cline as Bettina, the lead singer of a long-struggling garage rock group who finds herself at a crisis point. Despite her bleached blonde hair and fashionably grungy clothing, she is way too old to be playing the part of the rock rebel. Even she is aware of this – she’s at home in the bars and clubs where her style is accepted, but she walks with visible unease in the real world, absorbing incredulous stares from average people with an acute sense of embarrassment.

Time has worked against Bettina in regards to her career (she’s been on the road without success longer than she cares to recall) and her personal life (she left behind a daughter, now five, and the child’s father to chase her elusive star). A possible triumph awaits her with the promise of a European tour, but she grudgingly begs and borrows to get an increasingly unsympathetic circle of family and friends to back this latest dream chase.

Bettina is a memorable and harrowing creation, and Cline plays the role with a force of personality that would easily oil up the Oscar-talk machine had this been a studio production. She brilliantly conveys the mixed emotions of someone who won’t stop in the chase for big league stardom, but who nonetheless realizes the ridiculousness of her life (not the least being a new and silly affair with a drummer who is at least ten years her junior). It is an utterly compelling and powerful piece of acting.

Sadly, Cline’s performance is something of an island the messy sea of “The Horrible Flowers.” The Minneapolis-based film fragments into a series of forgettable sequences involving the various members of the eponymous rock group. Bettina’s adventures, featuring troubling reunions with her disapproving mother and the child and lover she left behind, pack the emotional punch. But then there is nonsense involving her scruffy bandmates hooking up with a pair of dumb groupies, her pistol-packing grandpa who does a terrible job looking after an ailing dog, and the aforementioned drummer who finds himself enchanted with an even older female rocker from a rival band.

The non-Bettina stories never quite add up to any genuine impact, and the acting therein ranges from childish to inept. The disconnect between these stories and the Bettina storyline often gives the impression that two very different films were blended together.

As an expose of the garage rock world, the film breaks no ground whatsoever. It’s pretty much a been-there/done-that offering complete with blow job-ready groupies, easy drugs, raucous audiences, and the tiresome shlep via uncomfortable buses from one gig to the next.

“The Horrible Flowers” would’ve been a triumph had the spotlight remained solely on Cline’s Bettina. But even in its current state, in provides a memorable star vehicle for an actress who is clearly ready for her proverbial close-up.

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