Fresh from a warm reception at Sundance, Evan Glodell’s “Bellflower” arrives as a turbo charged indictment of male adolescent fantasy and a biting critique of misplaced machismo. A burnt-out, bloody, brave debut, “Bellflower” rides out the fallout from a relationship to a stomach-churning conclusion…or does it? It’s a fine balancing act, as Glodell’s Woodrow charms the live wire Milly (Jessie Wiseman), loses her, and then rages – first impotently, then with the aid of a flamethrower and Medusa, a muscle car from hell.
The film’s tagline reads “A love story with apocalyptic stakes.” This writer thinks a better tagline would have been simply “Love hurts.” Needless to say, if you’ve ever experienced a break-up in your life, the haywire plotting of “Bellflower” and the earnestly naturalistic performances will definitely hit home. If not, you can still nod sadly as the cast spends their time drifting from one bed to another, imbibing a proper amount of alcohol and the occasional joint to keep the morale going. A fascination with Mad Max brings Woodrow and best buddy/occasional asshole Aiden (Tyler Dawson) out to LA, where the gear heads tool around, building a flamethrower while modifying a hunky-looking car into a post-apocalyptic tank.
Wiseman’s Milly offers Woodrow a temporary chance to cut loose of Aiden, played by Dawson as that friend who’ll keep ribbing you until he gets his way. Their relationship blossoms sweetly with a road trip to Texas, the alcohol flowing freely thanks to a modification built into Woodrow’s junk car. The film is divided via titles, so when we take a jump into the now floundering relationship, it’s almost like turning the page to a new chapter. Woodrow is now possibly brain damaged as a result of a spill he takes after storming out of the house when he catches Milly cheating. As we begin to question his recollections of the present, “Bellflower” heads down the rabbit hole allotted by the same fantasies that at first seemed sweetly disarming.
When Woodrow’s naivete curdles, he turns inwards for respite, and what happens next is up to interpretation. The visuals (provided largely by a camera put together by Glodell) only complicate this murky quest, with backgrounds randomly out of focus, smudges on the lens and a blown out aesthetic that raises doubts to the actuality of what’s going on. You get the feeling that’s exactly what Glodell wants as “Bellflower” begins to feed on itself in the third act, a self-reflexivity that may sink the film for some viewers.
And it’s this last section that’s bound to be the divisive fork in the road – some viewers will be along for the final, no-holds barred acidic finale, others will scoff at the great lengths the film goes to demonstrate the consequence of love’s labor lost. Not since Matt Malloy’s gutless Howard upchucked in a stairwell in Neil LaBute’s “In the Company of Men”, has the fall of the male libido been so aggressively rendered. Those of us who are men can certainly appreciate the allure of boys’ toys, and faded dreams of infinite glory, but if we should choose to follow them, we may well end up walking the same road as Woodrow, with what’s left of us left to smolder and fall apart. [A-]