BELLFLOWER Review

Contributor; Seattle, Washington
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BELLFLOWER Review

I think the moment I realized I hated Evan Glodell's directorial debut, Bellflower was about the third or fourth time one of its vacuous, dull characters conflated Mad Max with its sequel, The Road Warrior. The characters make constant reference to Lord Humungous and scenes from the latter film while calling it the former, and if any of you fine readers can divine a narrative purpose for this confusion on the part on the characters, I would be more than happy to hear it. Because honestly, Bellflower does a poor job at giving any sense of motivation to any thing its immature, aimless, empty leads do, making the entire runtime of the film feel like attending a party with a bunch of people you don't know, seeing some of them get into a nasty argument, and realizing quickly that you hate them all but can't leave because the doors are locked.

I can honestly say it's been a long time since I've hated a movie so thoroughly.

This mess of a production follows Woodrow and Aiden (Glodell and Tyler Dawson), 20-somethings who moved out to California because they thought it would be cool, and who subsequently decide to build a tricked out muscle car a la Mad Max which they dub "Medusa." Then Woodrow meets a "wild" girl, manic pixie Millie (Jessie Wiseman)--guys, if a girl tells you she doesn't want a relationship because it'll end badly, walk away because she's giving you clear signs of years of baggage. We suspect she's flaky/unpleasant given how thoroughly she fails to acknowledge or deal with the crush her roommate Mike (Vincent Grashaw) has on her.

Anyway, Millie and Woodrow take a trip to Texas with her on their first date because it's cool, and from there the movie meanders its way through their unlikely, unappealing, and mostly uninteresting relationship. He whines and makes puppy dog eyes at her while she seems to see him as a waypoint to whatever shiny thing enters her field of vision. With more thought and better performances, the tension between Millie and Woodrow could have been something--as it stands it's just another undermotivated part of the movie.

At its core, I suspect Bellflower is about a sort of boozy young adulthood crashing into "real" adulthood. But then, not a single one of the characters grows, changes, or really gives us insight into this theme. Not a single one of them appears to have a job, or any concrete interest, personality, or even a last name. The acting isn't really much help either, with each member of the cast delivering the same distant, faux-ironic performance that just grates, and wears after a while. I wanted to get into Glodell's efforts to let the characters bob along with their own currents--I can respect that instinct. At the same time, I need to know a little something about these characters before I follow them along for nearly two hours wandering the grimy titular street where all the action takes place.

Then there's the third act, which veers off into uncharted territory, with violence, blood, and fire, and has little if any emotional resonance with what came before. I wish I could somehow project into your brain beyond mere words how little I cared about any of this, how, by this point, I would have happily run from a crumbling theater rather than subject myself to the lifeless eyes of the film's leads, from their monotone, flat delivery, from their lack of character.

I believe that every film, whether a micro-budget indie shot on a flip cam or a big budget 3D production based on a ride, is about communicating an idea to an audience. Whatever the purpose--to sell toys, to push politics, to enlighten, surprise, or anything else--the core idea is the sharing of some germ, some spark that the filmmaker had to pass from their brain into someone else's.

Why was Glodell interested in telling this story with these characters? Who are they to him? With Bellflower, there is neither germ nor spark, no particularly coherent or compelling idea. Just a preponderance of yellow-toned visuals and listless performances, like the car the film spends so much time on, it's a bunch of pretty noise with no purpose.

Bellflower screened previously at the 37th Seattle International Film Festival back in June and this review has been embargoed since that time. It opens in limited release on August 5.

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Jim TudorAugust 6, 2011 11:09 AM

Well written piece.

Charles WebbAugust 7, 2011 4:36 AM

Thank you, Jim!

gapaspeperAugust 7, 2011 9:40 AM

I've watched Stake Land yesterday and felt almost the exactly same way about that movie. Still interested in watching this one, though.

Michael GuillenAugust 7, 2011 2:18 PM

Couldn't disagree with you more. Wouldn't even call this a review. More an opinion. And an unfair one at that.

andrewzAugust 7, 2011 10:10 PM

I watched Two Lane Blacktop this week and most of the criticisms cited in this piece could easily apply to that flick as well.


I wonder if the author has seen that movie and if my observations are correct. I doubt I would see Bellflower as I am certainly not the target audience and find most movies with 20-somethings acting like 20-somethings rather droll.


Whether I like the movie or not, I do think this piece stated the reasons for not enjoying the film in a methodical and reasoned manner.

Charles WebbAugust 8, 2011 1:55 AM

@andrewz, I've never seen TWO LANE BLACKTOP, but I suspect that it's still one of those movies that--based on rep alone--I should probably see at some point to reinforce my genre film bona fides.

@Michael, Weigh in--what did you think of the movie and why was this review, to your mind, unfair? I considered the material onscreen, the ideas and themes that it presented, and in the final analysis found the whole them vacuous in the extreme.

andrewzAugust 8, 2011 5:55 PM

FYI: Two Lane Blacktop is available from Netflix DVD (at least in the US). It was done by Criterion so the DVD is pretty top notch. Guess it was unavailable for a long time due to music rights or somesuch. I thought it was a good, not great movie.

kcat72August 19, 2011 9:47 PM

Mr. Webb, LIGHTEN UP!!!

I was entertained and intrigued. I was entertained by memorable characters, good music, good cinematography, and a non-hollywood-fits-in-a-neat-little-box story. I was intrigued by a story that showed Woodrow, a seemingly nice guy, explore his deep rage after being betrayed. Nobody changed? Basically, you saw this dopy nice guy at the beginning of the flick, and he was a frigging lunatic later on. There was an arc to him, the central character. There was an arc to the story. There was contrast. And I don't need to know a lot about the characters. You can fill in the blanks for you self. For instance, how is it that in action movies, you don't see anyone eating or pissing? You assume that part of things. IT'S A MOVIE. So of course, the Bellflower characters did SOMETHING to get by and pay there bills. You miss the point. Have you ever seen a David Lynch movie? He's not about making sense. I like that line from a Talking Heads song, "stop making sense." For crying out loud, can't you find what's right with a movie, instead of harping on minimal flaws? He did this on a shoe-string budget, and I was entertained. Put your microscope away, lighten up and go enjoy a so-called bad movie once in a while.

Niall

leocohenAugust 20, 2011 5:31 PM

I finally found a review of this film that adequately starts to describe the absolute disdain I felt for this movie. Every scene, every character and every situation was so wrapped with inauthenticity and staginess that after the first fifteen minutes, I went into an ever increasing anger that finally culminated with giving up. I just couldn't care less. This movie is about nothing, and not as social statement. This is not GUMMO, nor is it Fincher, nor is it any mix of realism and fantasy. No, far from that, it reminds me of some pretty awful student films I've seen, but with the resources and manic desires to include cars and flames. Of course, flamethrowers are only for show and tell, and this movie is akin to an awfully long and uninspired show and tell in middle school.