The Best Movie Critic + TIME

SXSW: Bellflower

Bellfower's protagonists, Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson), are so obsessed with Mad Max that they've decided when the apocalypse comes, they want to be like Lord Humongous, rulers of the wasteland. These indie slackers - who possess an astounding amount of disposable income for their apparent lack of jobs - spend their days building portable flame throwers and, best of all, a souped up muscle car called the Medusa that can shoot flames 20 feet in the air out of it's tailpipe.

What's even cooler is that Evan Glodell, who also wrote and directed the movie, really made the car in real life... really! And the flamethrower! And, because that's not badass enough, he said, "Ahh what the hell, I might as well go ahead an make the cameras I'm gonna shoot the movie on from scratch, too." Glodell and his cast and crew showed up for a Q&A after the SXSW screening I attended. When the questions died down, Glodell squirmed in his seat and mumbled, "Uh, so, ya wanna see the car?" He had actually driven the Medusa out to Austin from California. In the Alamo Drafthouse parking lot, Glodell, Dawson, and the Medusa wowed the crowd. Did I mention 20 foot fucking flames!?!? Then they let people light their cigarettes off of the pilot light on the tailpipes. Is there anything more badass than lighting a cigarette off the tailpipe of a flame-shooting muscle car? No. There isn't. After the show, Glodell and Dawson drove the Medusa off into the night.

That was the best part of my Bellflower experience. Unfortunately, the movie itself is a mess.

Yes, Bellflower is a buddy story about two innovative but infantile friends caught in a state of arrested development. But even moreso it's about Woodrow coming out of his shell, meeting a girl, Milly (Jesse Wiseman), getting his heart broken when Milly breaks up with him, being a sad-sack self-destructive bastard for a while, and then getting over it. It's a familiar story - most of us have been there - but as a work of fiction, it's tiresomely autobiographical. Like that kid in your college creative writing class who constantly writes short stories about the girls who dumped him.*

Also reminding me of Mr. Sensitive's "creative writing," Bellflower's leading lady is a one-dimensional temptress stereotype. She's fun and flirty, but when things get serious she pulls back. Milly actually tells Woodrow, "I'll hurt you," and sure enough, later on he catching her sleeping with someone else. Woodrow is a whiny wimp, so I can't really blame her, but that's beside the point. The point is, her character motivation is as mysterious and illogical to the viewer as it is to Woodrow. We see her through his eyes, and his eyes are the eyes of an insecure, hormonal 17 year old trapped in a late 20-something's body. Sure girls like Milly exist, but her treatment in Bellflower is not particularly constructive or insightful. We the audience are supposed to buy into the idea that she's a bitch, but we're never given more than the most cursory information about her. As written by Glodell, she's an infatuation, not a human being.

I really appreciate the innovation and gumption it takes to make your own cameras, but Glodell is a little overzealous about showing them off. Not a shot of Bellflower passes without some in-camera effect distracting the viewer: simulated dirty lenses, obscuring soft focus, shakey-cam galore, they's all here in headache inducing doses. On top of that, Bellflower's editing purposefully obscures chronological time. The accumulated effect is a dreamy, washed out vibe, but for the life of me I can't figure out the point. The dreaminess adds nothing to the movie, and feels maybe a little bit like Glodell and crew were trying to cover up for a lack of coverage.

Evan Glodell and his crew are obviously extraordinarily talented on a technical level. He should have no trouble getting production jobs based on his work here. However, I'm not convinced about Glodell the actor, writer, and director. I understand that this is a first production, and I'm sure he learned plenty from this experience. But Bellflower has built a lot of hype at Sundance and SXSW, and it just isn't that movie.

-Ben

*Guilty as charged, but hey, that was ten years ago! And I didn't try to submit my short stories to Sundance and SXSW!!!

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SXSW: Bellflower + TIME