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Ten Word or Less Review: A hot rod romance on the road to Hell.

As independently minded as movies come, Bellflower feels like the melding of a quirky Kevin Smith romcom from years past and a semi-deranged sexual exploit adventure crawling out of David Lynch’s subterranean imagination.  And to really seal the deal it’s all bolted together like a home made hot rod by Mad Max originator George Miller.  I can’t recall many films both as touchingly romantic and savagely barbaric as Bellflower.  It’s an experience destined to divide audiences right down the middle for years to come.  And something tells me gender will play a great part of that line and which side you’re on.

Written, directed and starring unknown commodity Evan Glodell, Bellflower starts as a sublime and adoringly amateurish romance of the young and carefree.  Glodell plays Woodrow, a harmless dude who spends his days paling around with semi-eccentric goofball best friend Adrian (Tyler Dawson).  The two spend their days dreaming of ruling a Mad Max world, driving around in a hell raising hot rod they plan to build as soon as they finish their homemade flame thrower.  It sounds juvenile, sitting around fantasizing about being Lord Humongous, but the two goofs would make a charming post apocalyptic pair.  A night out drinking introduces Woodrow to Milly (Jessie Wiseman), an adorable, gutsy, cupie doll of a girl who kicks his butt at a cricket eating contest.  By the next day they’re on a prolonged date to Texas, having a grand adventure full of surprise and falling in love.  The first half if Bellflower is simple in scope but highly stylized and very involving.  It may borderline on the amateurish on occasion but it’s a wholly convincing, winning experience. Unitl.

On their first date Millie casually hints at the damage she’ll eventually do to Woodrow and she’s not lying or exaggerating.   Halfway through Bellflower the story finishes with the honeymoon section and moves forward to an unspecified time down the road.  Perhaps no more than a few months, or even weeks after the two have hooked up.  Just enough for Woodrow to grow a scraggly beard.  For reasons we’re not made aware of we can see the shiny gloss of new love has faded and something is unraveling between Milly and Woodrow.  True to her word, Woodrow discovers Milly mid coitus with a friend and as his state of mind begins to fracture, so does the movie.  The lighthearted becomes grim, uplift is supplanted with savagery, romance becomes vengeance.  This affable story of young love turns more and more twisted at every beat. 

Glodell clearly has a very one sided perspective on romance.  His character is all sweetheart and good intention, a simple, slovenly charmer who loves flamethrowers.  The audience likes Milly just as much with her shitkicker pluck and feisty personality, but when the relationship sours, it’s all Milly’s fault.  We’re given very little motivation as to why she betrays Even, she just does it as if it’s compulsive on her part.  Her inevitable turn is hinted at to be sure, but some genuine shading and reason would’ve been more insightful.  As it is Milly simply turns rotten and drags Evan down with her.  The two characters complete their romantic implosion with savage acts against the other which strain credibility and threaten to set the movie aflame like one of the towering fireballs from Evan’s flamethrower.  Woodrow gets the apocalypse he’s so flippantly dreamed of and it’s nothing like he imagined.  He finally gets to be Lord Humongous, and it sucks.

Even if Glodell’s story turns you off he’s certainly a distinctive filmmaker with a eye for motion and vivid imagery.  Bellflower was made for a paltry $17,000 but has a shocking level of sophistication and innovative cinematography.  He’s also able to get credible performances from his semi-amateurish collection of actors and actresses.  Glodell and Wiseman had almost no professional acting experience before this.  There may be no Daniel Day Lewis on display but for a film which hinges so much on unknown actors, what he achieves is close to a miracle.

Bellflower starts as an expression of romantic love and ends on a bleak note of stark anti-romance.  It makes War of the Roses look like Love Story.  It’s characters wasted, demolished and destroyed their lives are summarily reduced to barbarism and hate.  It’s the kind of movie Sandra Bullock and Katherine Heigl would be forced to make should they lose a deal with the Devil and burn in Hell.  I can’t say something as simplistic as ‘I liked Bellflower‘, it’s more complicated than that.  It’s innovative and different and difficult to accept but it is what it is and has no qualms about being so.  If you find yourself drawn into it you may not be able to turn away, but it may burn your face off by the time its done.


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