Bellflower director Evan Glodell has style to spare and he could stand to spare some if he doesn’t know how to use it meaningfully. What starts off as a lifeless love story with a manic pixie dream girl eventually devolves into a narcissistic wasteland where a guy who gets royally screwed over begins to drown in dark nightmares of revenge, self-pity, and overwrought violence. Any stabs at honest emotions are undermined by the heavy-handed direction coupled with Glodell’s ill-advised decision to cast himself in the lead role. Brief moments of humor and humanity leak through the veneer, mainly from co-star Tyler Dawson, but everything is overshadowed by overgrown children calling each other “dude” and taking time off from the jobs they clearly don’t have.
Glodell clearly wants to make a statement more than tell a story, but here’s the quick synopsis: Woodrow (Glodell) meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman) at a bar one night, they go on a date, that date turns in a road trip to Texas, they fall madly in love even though neither has much in the way of a genuine personality, and come back as boyfriend and girlfriend. Before Woodrow leaves with Milly, he’s working on building a flamethrower with his best friend Aiden (Dawson) as the two jokingly prepare for the coming apocalypse and fantasize about how they’ll take over the land with their sweet Mad Max-esque gang “Mother Medusa”. Later on they’ll expand their apocalypse preparation—or rather, Aiden will since he seems to do most of the work—by building a badass car called Medusa.
Then it all falls apart as Woodrow catches Milly cheating on him. Woodrow storms out, hops on a motorcycle he bought on his road trip with Milly, and is promptly hit by a car. The rest of the movie is spent watching Woodrow poorly cope with his awful break-up, his physical and emotional wounds, and fantasizing about awful outcomes that recall The War of the Roses except without the emotional honesty and lived-in feel of a real relationship.
However, Glodell isn’t interested in telling a story. It’s the statement he wants. He wants to make an assertion on notions of modern masculinity and heartbreak and it all feels incredibly childish. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe the shallowness of the movie is mean to mirror the shallowness of the characters, but that doesn’t make it any less tiresome. If we’re to believe that Glodell wants to talk about the confusion and alienation of the modern man, then he should know that other people have said it before and said it far better and up his game accordingly. If he wants to talk about the impotent rage and primal violence created by heartbreak, the statement is obvious and shallow.
Where Bellflower shows its true colors is in its colors. Glodell didn’t make a heartless film or even a thoughtless one. He just thought it through very poorly. He blows out colors, soaks almost every scene in a filter of old urine, and then smears the lens dirty. But keeping this look in a lovey-dovey scene between Woodrow and Milly and then using it later when he’s going to the CVS and buying underwear renders the decision meaningless. Glodell wants the audience to notice his style but he never uses it to bolster his story or his characters.
Granted, there are hardly any real characters to speak of. I don’t mind that most of them are unlikable, shallow, self-involved, and apparently able to have fun lives without having jobs (I assumed they were all trust fund babies). You don’t have to like a character to appreciate him or her, but there’s nothing to appreciate in these people except for Aiden. Dawson brings a warmth to the role that elevates Aiden from simply being Woodrow’s loyal squire to where he comes off like a real person and a true friend. The same can’t be said for everyone else. I don’t care when Milly cheats on Woodrow because Glodell jumps from the highs of their relationship to its lowest low and I barely know either of them. You can argue the jump is because Woodrow can only remember the euphoria and the heartbreak, but leaving out the honesty in the middle renders the relationship itself meaningless. It turns Milly from dream girl to heartless shrew in about five seconds and then dismisses her while we are forced to wallow in the sea of angst and self-indulgence that is Woodrow’s pain.
Glodell clearly feels that pain and of all the charges I can level at Bellflower, I can’t say it’s dishonest insofar as the rawness of its creator’s emotions. However, the lack of focus in the direction creates endless frustration as I could tell that Glodell could have made a better movie but feared he would lose the immediacy of the emotion if he applied any intelligent construction to his filmmaking. Bellflower is a can of paint kicked against a wall and I’m sure the person who kicked it was very angry and sad. But he didn’t choose the paint and he didn’t really care where he kicked it and so a splatter on the wall doesn’t really tell me much. Jackson Pollock this is not nor is it much of anything except an angry little ball of whiny indignation and childish aggression attempting to pass as thoughtful discourse.