One way to quit an old flame
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Sep 09, 2011
"Bellflower," according to the movie's poster, is a love story. The question is: Who's in love with whom - or with what?
On the surface, the much-buzzed-about indie flick is the tale of a romance gone bad. Early on in the story, 20-something slackers Woodrow (played by writer-director Evan Glodell) and Milly (Jessie Wiseman) meet cute. (Or what passes for "cute" in a movie that wears its quirks, instead of its heart, on its sleeve. They're actually competitors in a live cricket-eating eating contest at a bar, where she beats him, soundly and rather disgustingly.)
Soon the two are living together.
You know almost immediately that it will not end well. In fact, Milly tells us so. "Thing'll go bad," she warns Woodrow, "and I'll end up hurting you." Filmmaker Glodell also tips his hand - albeit only somewhat more artfully - by opening with shots from the movie's conclusion: Woodrow covered in blood; a cardboard moving box labeled "Milly's [stuff]"; somebody's backyard in flames; Woodrow walking down the street with a giant flamethrower in his hands.
How's that again?
Ah, yes, the flamethrower. This leads to the second - and perhaps more significant - love story at the heart of "Bellflower." For much of the film, Woodrow and his best friend, Aiden (Tyler Dawson), spend nearly every waking hour tinkering, first on a homemade flamethrower and then on a customized, "Mad Max"-style muscle car (a 1972 Buick Skylark) that shoots flames out its tailpipes.
Why? If you have to ask, you will never understand "Bellflower." Glodell's film takes it as an article of faith that such customized car parts as a turbocharged blower kit - whatever that is - are, de facto, cool. But exactly where Woodrow and Aiden get the money to pay for all this automotive hardware - not to mention all the booze and cigarettes they consume, apparently instead of food - is a mystery. No one in the movie appears to have a job.
That's because "Bellflower," whose title refers to a street on the seedy outskirts of Los Angeles around which the action takes place, is not set in the real world, but in the not-quite-Hollywood of Glodell's imagination. It's a movie about hipsters that is itself preoccupied with being hip. After a while, "Bellflower" feels like it can't stop checking itself out in the mirror. It's a pose, not a movie.
Yes, it's visually striking. But everything about it - lenses that, like a windshield, seem to have been spattered with mud and motor oil; deliberately blurred focus; oversaturated color; arch chapter titles such as "Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive" - feels like an affectation. It's Glodell who's in love, but with the camera, not the story.
Maybe that's because there's not much story there to begin with. A soured love affair and its ugly unraveling are nothing new. And turbocharging the level of violence and ugliness that result - and, boy howdy, does Glodell ever lay it on thick at the end - only soups up the underlying clunker. It's all paint job, no mileage.
Worse yet is the insincerity of the film's central performances. Too cool by half, Glodell, Wiseman and Dawson speak every line as if it had air quotes around it. In fact, the entire movie feels as though it has air quotes around it. If you believe anything about it, it may be this line, spoken by Milly's roommate Mike (Vincent Grashaw, who is also one of the film's producers and editors) to Milly's best friend, Courtney (Rebekah Brandes):
"You know, our friends are a bunch of tools, right? Seriously."
Contains violence, nudity, sex scenes, pervasive vulgarity and drug and alcohol abuse.