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Bellflower (****)

Bellflower’ is easily the most unique film that I’ve seen in 2011 to date.  It’s also one of the very best of the year so far, a micro-budgeted independent feature with a story that will both shock you and also break your heart.  It’s, along with ‘The Beaver’, the only film this year to get 4 stars out of me, and stands alongside the aforementioned feature, Kevin Smith’s upcoming genre-bender ‘Red State’, and Woody Allen’s delightful ‘Midnight in Paris’ as the cream of the 2011 crop so far.  This flick definitely isn’t for everyone, and likely will turn a decent number of people completely off, but for those who are willing to go down the rabbit hole with it, you’re in for a treat.  If you crossed ‘Fight Club’ with ‘(500) Days of Summer’ and a pinch of ‘The Road Warrior’, then filtered it through the mind of John Hughes but then warped it and put it into a Mumblecore blender, that would be just the beginnings of what ‘Bellflower’ has in store for you. Writer/director/producer/editor/star Evan Glodell has cooked up something unlike anything I’ve seen before…

The plot begins normally enough, though with some unique details to be sure. Woodrow (Glodell) and his best friend Aiden (Tyler Dawson) spend the days drinking, hanging out, and oh yea…building a flamethrower.  You see, they fell
in love with the movie ‘Mad Max’ as kids and have wanting to live that life ever since.  They’ve got plans to rule the wasteland if/when the apocalypse occurs.  They even have a name for their future gang: “Mother Medusa”.  Woodrow’s membership in the gang begins to lag when he meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman) one night at a bar (they actually compete against each other in a Cricket eating contest).  They click immediately and make plans to go on a date.  The date in question actually ends up being a multi day affair where they travel from California to Texas for a meal at the worst restaurant in America.  This leaves Aiden and Milly’s friends Courtney (Rebekah Brandes) and Mike (Vincent Grashaw) wondering what’s up.  All is right in Woodrow’s world, especially when he returns with Milly, they finally sleep together, and he finishes the flamethrower with Aiden and move on to working on a super car.  Like most relationships though, his love affair with Milly isn’t all flowers and sunshine.  The second half of the film jumps to some point in the future where Milly has broken Woodrow’s heart and he sets out to hurt her as much as she hurt him.  This is where things begin to get violent and really out there.  I won’t spoil what happens from then on, especially in terms of the third act, but suffice to say that it goes in directions you wouldn’t dream of.  Some might shudder at the violence, but for my money, it’s an incredibly accurate (if extreme and fantastical) look at what goes through the head of a young man with a broken heart.  It’s been called misogynist (which I disagree with), a revenge fantasy (which it may or may not be), and many other things, but more than anything, what it is is honest.

Not surprising for a film as small as this one (more on that later), the acting is slightly amateurish, but still very effective.  Evan Glodell does a fine job of being the “nice guy” during the bonding scenes with Milly.  He makes sure we like Woodrow, which is essential for the movie succeeding.  No one is going to mistake his work for an Oscar winner, but he knows his character well and makes it work.  Tyler Dawson is decent as the goofy best friend, but he plays his character a bit more one note than a more seasoned actor would have.  Jessie  Wiseman makes her debut here, and gives a performance that’s hit and miss, but shows some good potential.  It’s a more complex role than you initially think, so it’s a credit to her that she’s able to handle it.  The supporting roles by Brandes and Grashaw are
passable, but they don’t leave too much of an impression.  The acting isn’t the best part of the movie, but it’s better than you’d expect and supports the vision of the filmmaker.

What Glodell achieves here as a filmmaker is nothing short of astonishing.  The movie was shot for a mere $17,000 on cameras specially designed by Glodell (he also built the cars in the film and a working flamethrower, which accounts for more than half of the budget) with built in dirt to make sure each shot was properly gritty, and while the film certainly features a “do it yourself” feel, it doesn’t ever look like something that could be done for that little.  In a world where studios spent literally hundreds of millions of dollars on films that don’t look good at all, for this flick to look like it does and work like it does, this is worth taking note of.  As a director, he has a clear vision of what he wants in his film, and he is able to accomplish that without fail.  Even at the film’s most bizarre moments, he never loses a grip on the material.  This also speaks to his strength as a writer, since the script he wrote is possibly the least conventional thing to hit theaters in some time.  Glodell keeps the pace going quite well, and works in a few incredibly memorable sequences (the first date between Woodrow and Milly is one of the best first dates ever committed to film, for my money).  He really keeps you on the edge of your seat, and when you finally realize what the movie is about, it comes both as a surprise and also as the logical thesis to the film.

I doubt that any other film in 2011 will be as unique as ‘Bellflower’.  While I may ultimately end up seeing “better” flicks this year, none will be quite like this one.  It gets my absolute highest recommendation.  I don’t forecast this opening to wide, so you may have to wait a while to see it, but I urge you to give it a chance when you can.  You won’t know what hit you.  As I mentioned earlier, aside from ‘The Beaver’, ‘Red State’, and ‘Midnight in Paris’, there isn’t anything that I’ve watched all year that worked for me as much as ‘Bellflower’ did.  It’s easily going to end up on my Top 10 of 2011 list.  It’s just that amazing.

What do you think?

Stan

Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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