Bellflower is the movie equivalent of those GOP lawmakers who rail against homosexuality and keep rentboys on the side. It wants to be a movie about growing up and leaving behind childish concepts of masculinity, but it also wants to wallow in those childish concepts and have a fucking kick-ass car and an amazing flamethrower, and it wants to mostly sell those elements to you.
And therein lies the disconnect that kept me from really liking Bellflower. As a narrative it’s deeply flawed, which I could get over, but the thematic dissonance was impossible to get past for me. It’s a movie that pretends to be about one thing but is really about something completely different, and as a result its final conclusion feels fake and half-hearted and most of all like a cop out.
The film is about two friends who, without visible means of support, spend their days drinking and fantasizing about living in a post-apocalyptic world. Very specifically the post-apocalypse of The Road Warrior, where they hope to be as badass as Lord Humongous. They spend their time modding cars and building flamethrowers (again, despite having no visible means of support). One friend is unbelievably irritating and wimpy while the other is an annoying, destructive asshole, but at least he’s a lot of fun.
Things begin to change when the irritating friend, whose voice keeps cracking like Bobby Brady, meets a crazy girl at the local bar. She’s a bad wild girl, and together they do bad wild things, like drive from California to Texas just to eat at the most disgusting and filthy restaurant ever. It feels like this is probably supposed to be a destructive relationship, but since the guy has a car with a built in whiskey dispenser, destructive is probably a relative term.
And then the movie kind of floats along there. Bellflower is certainly in no hurry to get anyplace, but when it gets to something dramatic - which I won’t reveal, but which culminates in a nasty motorcycle accident - the film suddenly and completely falls apart. Again, it’s hard to critique this part of the movie in a review since it’s the third act and is completely in spoiler territory, but I can say this: the film throws aside all character and sense in a way that’s stupid but also kind of brave… and then it steps away from the edge of the abyss and says ‘OK, maybe not,’ and thinks it’s clever.
I don’t think I would have liked Bellflower much more if it had gone right over the edge - the film is way too long no matter what, and for most of the running time it has no momentum - but I would have respected it more. There’s something to be said about movies that willfully go off the rails, but much less to be said about movies that pretend like they’re going there and then shout ‘Psych!’
Writer and director Evan Glodell plays the whiny, annoying friend; judging by the second half of the film Glodell is trying to be whiny and annoying, so props to him. He pulls it off in spades. More interesting is Tyler Dawson, playing the crazy friend. Dawson has the look and energy of a young Edward Norton, and he’s often mesmerizing. He’s also the most interesting character because he’s the one with the most depth - while he’s the kind of ass who will destroy property and get into fights he can’t win, he’s also an incredibly caring friend and someone who has almost inhuman patience and forgiveness.
The other actors in this low budget production are fine, even someone like Jessie Wiseman, whose bad girl Millie feels less like a person and more like a projected male fantasy. In fact the women don’t fare particularly well in Bellflower; the other female lead played by Rebekah Brandes, seems to exist only to hop into bed with Glodell in the second half.
The real star of the film, though, is Medusa, the flaming muscle car that was actually built for the film. Like the women Medusa is really underused, and since the film never completely commits to insanity (and probably, to be honest, didn’t have the budget to get too vehicular), it mostly sits around looking boss.
I don’t know how much I like Glodell as a writer or an actor, but I think he’s very talented as a director. While I could do without so much hyperstylized stuff (there’s an annoying amount of fake dirt on the lens, and there’s an overuse of tilt shift photography that someone pointed out to me will look dated in about 12 months), Glodell knows how to compose a frame and shoot a scene. While I think Bellflower could easily stand to lose about 20 minutes Glodell manages to make each scene feel, on its own, compelling. The problem with the movie is that there are all these scenes adding up to not very much, and even if each scene works on its own many should have been sacrificed.
There’s a lot of raw talent on display in Bellflower, and I would be interested in seeing where Glodell, Dawson, Wiseman and Brandes go from here. I’m not particularly interested in revisiting what they did in this movie, though. Muddled, overlong, indulgent in uninteresting ways and eventually afraid to go anyplace provocative, Bellflower has a cool car and a promise of future filmmaking. Come to it in ten years and see where these people started out, as a curiosity.