Review: ‘Bellflower’

"I don’t see much actual value in the narrative, nor do I find it well-constructed enough to entertain on the way to its aggravating conclusion."

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

It’s okay not to like Bellflower. A lot of people are talking up the new independent drama – about a couple of guys making Road Warrior-esque flamethrowing muscle cars whose relationships with women go awry – as if it’s the second coming of Gus Van Sant or something, and I suppose there’s an argument for that on some level. It’s certainly an earnest look at its characters, their stunted growth and unhealthy relationships, but that doesn’t mean that it’s actually a great movie. I for one was frustrated by its stilted dialogue, poorly defined relationships, idle plotting, troubling themes and disconcertingly ambiguous ending (not that ambiguous endings are, in themselves, a bad thing). Some mild SPOILERS lie ahead, incidentally, as I try to explain why.

Writer/director/producer Evan Glodell stars as Woodrow, the quiet half of the typical indie movie 20-something pairing who is complemented by the outgoing Aiden, played by Tyler Dawson. They’re roommates who spend their time drinking and working on arts-and-crafts projects that would be useful in the apocalypse, like a flamethrower and the aforementioned badass muscle car they call “Medusa.” Woodrow meets and swiftly falls in love with a quirky badass girl named Milly (Jessie Wiseman), but eventually she betrays him, he suffers brain damage as an indirect result, and they eventually partake in a brutal series of revenge scenarios that result in either a spree of horrific blood-soaked violence or, just as likely, an impotent fantasy scenario of the same.

I imagine what you take from Bellflower will depend on whether you think the ending of the movie is real or all in the protagonist’s head. I’m not entirely confident that it matters. After a climactic confrontation so over-the-top that it’s borderline laughable (one character kills themself for no other reason that I can determine besides the fact that the movie seems to be ending), the film either decides that none of that happened or flashes back to the calm before that storm, which either way completely diffuses the crazed finale that would, by itself, have made Bellflower worth watching if only for its disturbing commitment to a balls-out conclusion.

Until then we’re left with a fairly straightforward, although beautifully shot, indie drama about 20-somethings who go to parties, sleep with scenester girls and mumble a lot about the meaning of life, love and so forth. The dialogue never rises about the simplistic, frankly, and despite the obviously heartfelt performances the relationships between the characters never seem well enough defined to care about what’s going on. One character sleeps with a girl who appeared for all the world to be dating his best friend, but later on we find out that the guy only had a crush on her. You can’t be sure how dramatic the affair is while it’s going on, and when it’s finally codified the whole thing turns out to be less dramatic than whatever you had come up with in your head. Milly’s betrayal of Woodrow is almost frighteningly random and never once explained, adequately or otherwise, so we have no idea how we’re supposed to feel about it. Bellflower appears to have a lot of narrative ambition, but despite those lofty dramatic intentions it never tips its hand enough to the audience to give a particular reason to care.

I guess I wanted Bellflower to commit wholeheartedly to its intriguingly broad Road Warrior themes, which bring an apocalyptic air to the third act of an otherwise familiar relationship drama. But when you don’t know how much of said finale actually happens, or even if it matters, it’s hard to really care. There’s an unfortunate air of misogyny to the entire proceedings as well, with every woman in the tale guilty of backstabbing, victims of violence and, in one case, genuinely approving of being treated with that kind of brutality. I get that the sincerity of the film is connecting with certain audience members, and certainly the concept of industrious layabouts wasting their time (and tons of their money, although the film never once explains where it’s all coming from) on ambitious side projects rather than commit to a more conformist lifestyle is a sympathetic one, but I don’t see much actual value in the narrative, nor do I find it well-constructed enough to entertain on the way to its aggravating conclusion.


CRAVE Online Rating: 3.5/10