52 Movies: Week 10
Judged on its own merits, Bellflower is a little bit of a mixed bag but, when you know the story behind the movie, it’s actually fairly impressive.
Bellflower is the first feature film for writer/director Evan Glodell. The movie was shot on almost no budget at all and submitted to Sundance on a whim where it was not only picked up to be screened, but went on to garner rave reviews.
Bellflower is the story of two Road Warrior obsessed friends, Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) who move to California seeking adventure and a change of pace. The two friends spend their spare time building flame throwers and Road Warrior inspired muscle-cars replete with all manner of fancy gadgets. While Tyler is brash and cocksure, Woodrow is shy and goodhearted. After meeting and falling in love with the ultra-cool Milly (Jessie Wiseman) at a bar, she speculates that he may be too nice and that she will surely hurt him. This prediction inevitably proves true, setting in motion a spiral of bad decisions and escalating violence.
I mentioned that the movie is a bit of a mixed bag. I thought that its strengths were also its weaknesses.
The film’s look is entirely distinctive and this is in large part due to a camera designed and built by Evan Glodell, who shares a predilection for invention and tinkering with his character. Cinematographer John Hodges was nominated for a 2012 Independent Spirit Award, losing to The Artist. The distinctive look gives many of the scenes a dirty, home made quality about them as if we are watching old home movies. At times the effect is almost over-bearing and screams of first movie indulgence and affectation. That having been said, the home movie effect brings an immediacy to the proceedings that helps to deepen the sense of dread when things start going wrong.
The performances also seemed a bit too affected at times. “You know your friends are tools, right?” says Milly’s roommate at one point. He’s entirely correct and, while this may be intentional on the filmmaker’s part, it does make it a little hard to connect with the movie at times. The James Rocci review quoted on the poster above says that Bellflower is “One of the most strong and stylish critiques of idiocy and confusion in young manhood since Fight Club.” I suppose he is right but, watching the movie, I was overly occupied with wondering how much of the idiocy was a creative choice and how much of it was drawn from life.
Ultimately, I suppose I am nit-picking Bellflower in an attempt to square my own lukewarm reaction against the weight of critical opinion which is overwhelmingly positive. I see what the critics are praising here and the more I find out about the movie the more I admire it but one should not need context to enjoy a movie. I will say that the movie was emotionally effective. There is a real sense of dread that builds as the movie progresses towards its climax and the final act of Bellflower left me feeling appropriately disturbed.
The things I liked about this movie, combined with what I have since learned about it are enough for me to give the movie four stars out of five, despite the fact that the movie is not destined to become a favorite of mine. If Evan Glodell goes on to great things, I reserve the right to change my opinion at some point in the future. I apparently have no shame.