Props to Evan Glodell for single-handedly writing, directing, producing, and financing Bellflower. He’s certainly a talent, and I look forward to seeing how he grows as an artist and what he does next. In fact, what would seem to be his most ill-advised decision, to cast himself in the lead role in his debut, turns out to be perhaps the best choice he made. Glodell is far and away the strongest of his actors, and he obviously understands himself as a writer and a director.
There’s more to admire about Glodell, including the cars and props built for the movie, which are so obviously a product of another passionate side of Glodell, that of the tinkerer. There’s also a lot to be said for how well he captures the feelings of romantic love, and the desire to let go and believe in the possibilities of a relationship even amidst a world of hurt and rejection, and the raw authenticity with which he captures the feelings of anger, resentment, and betrayal when a relationship ends badly.
Now that I’ve delivered some well-deserved compliments to Glodell, let’s shift to what doesn’t work, starting with the other actors. Jessie Wiseman, who plays Glodell’s romantic interest, is fine when she doesn’t have to do much except be cute and act natural. But by the end of the film, her performance devolves into one-note squawking rage and hatefulness. Obviously, a lot of that is in the script. But it takes a good actor, or at least a decent actor, to find the range in something and play different notes. Tyler Dawson, who plays Glodell’s best friend in the film, has moments of sincerity, mostly when he’s attending to his best friend’s needs and his hurt. But he doesn’t have a natural facility with the dialogue the way Glodell does. At times he comes off extremely amateurish, and in the scenes when his acting is better but he’s not as focused on helping Glodell’s character, he’s just a hateful hipster douchebag.
In fact, that’s a larger problem that Bellflower sets for itself, which is that it takes place within the sub-realm of Hateful Hipster Douchebags. And I say this as someone who could be accused of being a hipster himself. But there is a very unlikeable element to all of these characters. They’re lazy, purposeless, narcissistic, confused, meandering, and self-absorbed. Only Glodell as an actor is able to find the balance against the writing of the script with a natural charm, confidence, and ease that offsets his character enough to be sympathetic. Rebekah Brandes, who plays a friend of Wiseman’s and a potential love interest for Dawson, is equally shrill and unlikeable, and as the movie reaches its climax, her performance just devolves into the worst thing about the movie.
There’s also a very hand-made feel to the film that could put off some audiences. Some of it is intended, some of it is simply the reality of the fact that it is hand-made. For me, it created some of the film’s charm. And overall, I was still with the film despite everything for the first half of its running time. That’s when we see the burgeoning romance between Glodell and Wiseman. And then something happens, and the movie gets dark. And then it gets darker. And then it continues to get darker.
The plot follows these two best friends, played by Glodell and Dawson, who don’t have jobs and don’t seem to have any purpose in life besides sitting around creating flamethrowers and souped-up cars, then hitting the bars at night to drink bourbon. They’re obsessesed with Mad Max, and Lord Humongous in particular, and seem to have given up on life and are essentially preparing for the inevitable apocalypse. Then Glodell’s Woodrow meets a girl, played by Wiseman, at a cricket-eating contest at the local bar. A romance sparks, until he catches her fucking her sad-sack roommate who she doesn’t particularly even like. So Wiseman’s character Milly turns out not to have much of a spine, and takes no responsibility or accountability for what she’s done, which was obviously perpetrated out of some combination of boredom, insecurity, and fear of commitment. From there the film heads into the pitch black.
Part of the problem with the film is just how dark it does get. Let’s be honest; this is the kind of movie that will make you want to kill yourself. It probably didn’t help that I unknowingly put it on at about four in the morning while not being able to sleep after my girlfriend broke up with me the previous night. I thought it might be something I’d be able to identify with; I didn’t anticipate it making such a strong case for my own suicide. But looking beyond my own particular situation, if a movie is going to get this dark, it really needs stronger actors to support it. And the bottom falls out when these actors just can’t do it justice.
But the real breaking point is the sort of nebulous relationship to the narrative taken in the final act. There are flash forwards and flashbacks, enough to discredit what’s actually happening. By the end, we’re not sure if what’s happening is actually happening, or if it’s all a fantasy in the main character’s head, which seems the likeliest scenario. And the “it was really all just a dream” scenario is one that never plays well. If a director wants to portray a certain ending, just do it already, without the built-in hesitations of a lot of sleight of hand, misdirection, and plausible deniability. I may not enjoy a movie that tells humanity to go kill itself, but I can respect it more than one that wants to tell it that but doesn’t have the guts just to come right out and speak directly.
I give Glodell high points for all of his technical achievements here, particularly as a first-time filmmaker. But even with the darkness, I need more from a film than a group of purposeless characters stuck in a place of complete immaturity and emotional temper tantrums.