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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