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November 18, 2011

Movies You Missed 13: Bellflower

BellflowerThis week in movies you missed: Slackers meets The Road Warrior with a detour through Crazytown.

Before we begin, a note of advice: Women, if you meet a cute guy with emo hair in a bar and ask him what he does and he says, "I'm building a flame thrower," you may want to rethink pursuing the relationship.

What You Missed

In this low-budget indie film from writer-director-star Evan Glodell, two lifelong best friends, Aiden (Tyler Dawson) and Woodrow (Glodell), immerse themselves in an unusual project. They're creating a flame-throwing muscle car so they can rule the postapocalyptic wastelands like their childhood hero, Lord Humungus of The Road Warrior. 

Thing is, the apocalypse hasn't happened yet. So when they aren't working on their superweapon, Medusa, the boys hang out at a bar and try to pick up chicks. There they meet Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a brassy bottle-blonde who takes to Woodrow after she beats him in a cricket-eating contest. He takes her out in his car equipped with a whiskey dispenser, which she dubs "a James Bond car for drunks," and the pair drives all the way from California to Texas just to eat in a famously disgusting diner.

A match made in Hipster Heaven, right? It's pretty cute for a while, and Milly is the kind of wild-and-crazy girl that guys with strategic facial hair dream about, but when Woodrow says, "I love you," he hears crickets. Then the film abruptly changes course and goes to some strange and lurid places. Chekhov devotees can rest assured that every handgun or flame thrower introduced in the plot will serve a purpose.

Why You Missed It

A Sundance sensation, Bellflower made it to 13 theaters, none of them here.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Bellflower is the type of movie that doesn't inspire middling reactions. Some will love it; others (perhaps many more) will hate it. But no one will forget it. That makes it unmissable for novelty seekers like myself.

Here's Bellflower in a nutshell: At one point in the film, after Woodrow's been in an accident that made him black out, he asks Aiden what the immediate aftermath in the hospital was like. "Was it awesome?"

"No," his friend replies. "It wasn't awesome. It was terrible."

That's what the movie is about: things that seem awesome in the abstract turning terrible up close, because life (and love, and violence) cannot always be awesome, however much kids raised on Mad Max movies would like it to be. Whether the movie's last third is itself "terrible" in the good sense (harrowing, thought provoking) or the bad sense (a self-indulgent, misogynist mess) is something I haven't decided yet, to be honest. Maybe it's a bit of both.

A word about the visual style: It is dirty. Grungy. Yellow like a '70s Polaroid. There are visible smudges and specks on the lens. In some shots, so much of the frame is out of focus that you feel like you're watching 3D. Glodell built his own bizarre analog/digital camera hybrid that you can learn more about here, so yeah, he did it on purpose.

Verdict: Bellflower would make a great DVD double feature with Drive. They're both about Generation Y's issues with masculinity — I think, maybe — and they've both been compared to John Hughes movies, only "with head smashing" (in the words of Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn) and a flame thrower, respectively.

Actually, neither is anything like a John Hughes movie. Besides synth-pop montages and flirty banter, John Hughes movies are all about high school class struggles conceived in terms that seemed hokey even in 1983.

Bellflower and Drive couldn't care less about class struggles. They're both about a soft-hearted, romantically vulnerable guy who has — or wants — the power to transform into a scary, cold-as-ice action dude and solve his problems with head smashing and the like.

Ryan Gosling's character embodies both those people (watch the elevator scene) and brings out his scary side to protect his love interest, never to intimidate her. But in Bellflower, the love interest is the antagonist, and the transformation is ugly. It's especially shocking because Glodell doesn't exactly come across as a tough guy; Woodrow lets Milly take the lead in their relationship and defers to Aiden. He seems tentative, sweet, geeky, an uptalker, a bit of a whiner. When everything changes (if it really does; that's in some doubt), he's a new kind of superhero (or -villain): Emo to Psycho.

Creepy? Yes. A mess? No doubt. Heartfelt and tapping into something genuine, even if it's only a certain demographic's frustrations and fantasies? Probably. And not forgettable.

More New DVD Releases You May Have Missed:

  • Beginners
  • Griff the Invisible (yet another indie about a wannabe superhero, with Ryan Kwanten of "True Blood")
  • Main Street (Colin Firth, Orlando Bloom, Patricia Clarkson in a drama scripted by Horton Foote)
  • Making War Horse (all about the British stage play, not the upcoming Spielberg film)
  • The Tree (Charlotte Gainsbourg as a grieving widow in the Australian countryside)
  • White Chapel: The Ripper Returns (British miniseries about a modern detective on the trail of a killer who seems to be emulating the famous Jack)

Each week I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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