Bellflower is a tough film to review, but I’m going to try anyway. What the hell, I’ve been drinking. You might learn something by the end of this, or you might end up holding my hair back while I demand to know “why are there pants?”
Anyway, first things first: Bellflower involves a flamethrower, lots of nudity, and a muscle car named Medusa that shoots flames out of the exhaust pipes (that’s what happens when you sleep with a Pinto, bro). That probably makes it sound better than it is, but that’s because it’s more a collection of cool things than a coherent story. But without a doubt, the cool things it’s a collection of are pretty damn cool. …Shhh, did you hear that? That was the sound of A.O. Scott desperately wishing he’d ever written a sentence so insightful.
The best way I can describe Bellflower is as 500 Days of Summer as written by Bret Easton Ellis with a smaller vocabulary and a third act directed by David Lynch. It starts out feeling like a gearhead townie romantic comedy, and slowly devolves into nightmarish, hyper-violent post-apocalypse ambiguity. At the screening I attended, about a quarter of the audience walked out before it was finished, and about half the people who stayed for the Q & A gushed about how it was the best thing they’d ever seen. It was certainly polarizing and memorable, which any bearded wannabe artist will tell you is the mark of quality, but so is a hobo wacking off on a subway. (Not a diss, per se, some of my best friends are hobos wacking off on subways).
The plot centers on Woodrow, played by writer/director Evan Glodell, who, like all the characters, doesn’t seem to have a job, and spends most of his time drinking, trying to get laid, and talking about drinking and trying to get laid. Talk about wish fulfillment. He also enjoys helping his best friend played by Tyler Dawson (a taller, lankier version of Ziggy from The Wire) build a flamethrower and a Mad Max-inspired muscle car for their imaginary apocalypse gang, Mother Medusa. Woodrow eventually meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a cute, equally irreverent blonde whom he starts dating, and from there meets Millie’s best friend, Courtney, and Millie’s obsessed male roommate, Mike. They all spend the rest of the movie alternately getting drunk and screwing each other, and beating each other up for screwing each other. Ah, Thanksgiving.
It’s no fun to bash a movie like Bellflower, which Evan Glodell shot himself using his friends as actors. He seems like he’d be a fun guy to hang with, seeing as how he built a car with a whiskey dispenser in the dash and the aforementioned fire delivery devices, not to mention convinced some pretty girls he knew to let him film them naked for his movie about flamethrowers. I’ve tried that line countless times and it’s never worked for me. Of course, my ‘flamethrower’ was mainly just me lighting cat farts. (It’s all in the timing).
For most of the movie, it was interesting to see where it would go. It’s one of the most casually nihilistic movies I’ve ever seen. Woodrow and Milly’s meet cute comes at a dive bar where they end up competing against each other in a cricket-eating contest. Fast-forward to first-date-cute, she tells him she doesn’t want to go anyplace fancy, and asks him to think of the scariest, most disgusting dirthole he knows. He says that the grossest restaurant he knows is in Texas, so what the hey? They don’t have a care in the world and do almost everything simply for the novelty value, so they decide on the spot to drive from California to Texas drinking whiskey out of his dash (the DUI cute). On the way back, they see a cool motorcycle, so they trade the car for it.
The acting and cinematography are surprisingly great for a film a dude shot himself with a group of his friends. Watching Glodell and Tyler Dawson nuke a mannequin with their flame thrower at 30 paces made me squeal with joy. That said, the cute romance at the beginning soon gives way to rape, murder, suicide, and explosions (AWESOME!), with little rhyme or reason — not really that awesome ;-(.
I have no idea what this movie was about, and that seems like an issue. As a writer, I probably have a personal bias toward wanting to be told a story rather than roughly cornholed with David Lynchian anti-narrative, but even if you are a David Lynch cornholer, Bellflower‘s dystopian ambiguity could use a little variety. How many variations do we need of a guy having to defend a girl after she gets her ass slapped by a ruffian? And how often does that actually happen outside of cheesy, 80s bar movies? Lynch generally takes his stream-of-consciousness visions further than “YOU SLEPT WITH MY BOY/GIRLFRIEND! I’LL F*CKING KILL YOU!”
I was mostly riveted watching the bizarre action, dizzying character shifts, and unapologetic pyromania. Evan Glodell seems like the type of guy who likes to build cool sh*t just for the sake of building it, and he seems to have built a movie the same way. Flamethrower? Check. Fight scene? Why not. Knife rape? Boy howdy. A ton of respect for his balls-to-wall visions and ability to make them reality, but next time around, I’d love to see him hook up with a writer who can help them make more sense.
The girls were hot. So was the fire. I guess that counts for something.