August 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
Written and Directed by Evan Glodell
Starring Evan Glodell, Jessie Wiseman, Tyler Dawson, Rebekah Brandes and Vincent Grashaw
Bellflower is not a movie for the faint of heart. On the contrary, you must have an enormous heart and an unhealthy addiction to romance in order to truly appreciate and properly experience this insane and unabashedly psychotic love story. If Hollywood pumps out romantic films aimed at female sensiblities, with beautiful locales and perfectly dressed, quaffed haired Hollywood stars in fairy tale romance plots, then Bellflower is the exact same genre from a Manly Man’s perspective.
Bellflower can be lumped in with ‘Blue Valentine’ or ‘Terms of Endearment’ while also being just at home in a film fest that would include ‘The Road Warrior’ and ‘Reservoir Dogs’. I think the film it can most closely and accurately be compared to is Tarantino’s ‘True Romance’, though where ‘True Romance’ was light, fluffy, optimistic and occasionally horrifically violent, ‘Bellflower’ is its dark evil twin, with the old Hollywood glitz, glamour and cheese filtered out in favor of dirt, cheap whiskey and apocalyptic notions of love and honor.
Bellflower is the brainchild of writer-director-star Evan Glodell. His onscreen persona doesn’t give any hint as to where the story will go as the film unfolds. He’s a big guy, but very unassuming with a hipster-y Flock of Seagulls-lite haircut and a boyishly soft, sensitive voice that is appropriate for his character, Woodrow, a man paradoxically hung up on the cliché idealized notions of love at first site and the casual desire of many a young man to blow shit up and live off the beaten path. Woodrow is best friends and seemingly a business partner of sorts with Aiden (Tyler Dawson) a stick thin, loudmouthed good ol’ boy who compliments Woodrow’s more sheepish, reserved charm. They go together like oil and matches. All they do with their time is drink and work on little engineering hobbies like creating a working flame thrower or supercharging a monster car that they feel could protect them and ultimately give them domain over people in the event of an apocalypse. They call this car ‘Medusa’ and soup it up with flame throwers, front rear and interior surveillance cameras and lots of other cool stuff.
It isn’t clear where they get all the money to do this extensive remodeling and customary designs, or how they can afford to do pretty much anything. It’s never explained. They just are. They have their apartment and their cars, they go out and drink and party and just exist. Its as if the world bestows simple pleasures upon them gratis. The film is so meticulously edited and clearly personal for the writer-director-star that I have no doubt the lack of any back story or explanation about their financial situations is anything less than purposeful. These people exist somewhere between a fantasy world and a harsh, cruel reality.
One night the two partners in crimes against modern mechanics go out drinking at a rather unique dive bar in which there are strange contests every few weeks. This week there’s a cricket eating contest. Aiden has already told Woodrow that Woodrow will get a lady by the end of the night, so there’s really no other possible outcome. As such, Woodrow conveniently meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a voraciously vulgar and free spirited anti-ingenue. She’s the kind of woman that makes the man feel like the girl in a relationship. Woodrow is no different. He succumbs to her tomboy charms and is immediately sucked down a strange, romantic whirlwind of a rabbit hole, from which he is destined never to escape.
Woodrow and Aiden become incestuously involved with Milly’s circle of friends, including her creepy roommate Mike (Vincent Grashaw in the weakest, most amateurishly actor-y performance of the bunch) a brooding sycophant-like man who appears to lust hopelessly after Milly. It’s the least convincingly developed character, which might be the reason for Vincent Grashaw’s rather silly performance as a constant and vaguely menacing presence making every scene he is in awkward and self-consciously acted by the entire ensemble. Milly’s best friend Courtney (Rebekah Brandes) also gets mildly involved with Aiden, though that plotline seems to be dropped immediately, or else it functions as a red herring. Brandes is wonderful in the most down to earth and conventional performance. She exudes effortless charm and believability as a pretty, sweet girl just trying to make nice with everybody involved.
Bellflower is a very strange genre mash up. We’re following a couple through an almost entirely predictable, hip as can be love story filled with impromptu road trips, deep emotional conversations, cool classic muscle cars, blindingly gorgeous washed out summer time cinematography and gritty post-college blue collar 20-something slumming parties where the educated meet the anti-intellectuals for a beer bash and awkward social interplay.
Tensions rise as time goes on, separated by poetic title cards reading like sentence fragments, which serve as chapters in a book. Milly and Woodrow continue dating, settling into something resembling domesticity. It’s clear everybody is restless. Woodrow and Aiden have lost their focus with their apocalyptic designs and Milly’s thoughts clearly lay elsewhere. It’s well done in that Glodell refuses to spell out the nature of the situation for us. For anybody whose has general life experience, particularly in new and unclear romantic relationships, the outcome is somewhat foreseeable, but they final revelations and path Glodell’s script takes is wholly original and fascinating in its psychotic tendencies.
The film is very fluid and worm-hole-y in its structure. The plot is mostly linear, but there are side tangents where its unclear if a sequence is reality or fantasy. Perhaps Glodell wants to acknowledge the possibility of both versions of his story existing within a realm of possibility. The more likely explanation is that Glodell is anthropomorphizing the emotional turmoil of a relationship gone sour through images of abhorrently selfish and violent actions made by all the characters involved in the story. The images are all very clear and visceral, but they serve more of a metaphorical purpose than something as simple and melodramatic as Glodell actually taking us down a true road of insanity that is depicted in the final act’s denouement, before he brings the story full circle to something that suggests a more logical and personal ending to a tragically miscalculated romance.
NOTE: The images aren’t literally clear. There’s a washed out, 16MM grainy quality to the film’s look, a result of some actual engineering by Glodell and associates on a uniquely built camera system, created specifically for this project. Medusa was also built specifically for the project and also functions 100% as depicted on screen. No gimmicks in this flick!
Bellflower is a refreshing take on romantic melodrama and guy-centric personal journeys. I’d also include it just barely as an addition to the film noir subgenre, as it depicts people of low stature in life falling from the cracked sidewalk of their existence, off the curb and into a gutter of pain, anguish and regret. They don’t fall from a high place. They fall from a survivable, insulated existence of social patterns and routine, into one of emotional overexposure and rash decision making based on our most inscrutable desires and motivations. He does this beautifully, originally and in an emotionally stunning manner that will leave you floored.