Thursday, 26 January 2012

BELLFLOWER - Losers of the NOW generation captured evocatively in this debut feature that's as eminently watchable as it is drearily indicative of what passes for counter-culture amongst today's aimless youth.

BellFlower (2011)
dir. Evan Glodell
Starring: Evan Glodell, Tyler Dawson, Jessie Wiseman, Rebekah Brandes, Vincent Grashaw


By Greg Klymkiw

Much as I loved George Miller's post-apocalyptic Australian action thriller Mad Max, I couldn't ever imagine becoming so obsessed with it that I'd devote every waking hour in my early adulthood to reconstructing homemade flame throwers and souped up muscle cars. Woodrow and Aiden (Evan Glodell and Tyler Dawson), however, do just that. They leave their Wisconsin home behind, move to California and take up a rewarding career of slacking.

Like all healthy young men from the midwest who developed a mutual obsession from repeated slavish viewings of Mel Gibson kicking Toe-Cutter butt, they become your everyday, run-of-the-mill go-to guys for all the accoutrements one might require in a dystopian future. Alas, they live in the here and now. It's plenty dystopian, though.

First time filmmaker Evan Glodell mounted this finely observed drama on a meagre budget, but makes up for it with all manner of solid writing, superb performances and some really imaginative props (that Glodell himself designed). It's gorgeously shot and chockfull of super-cool tunes.

Some might describe the movie as part of the mumblecore movement, but because I hate that particular delineation and many of the movies within it, I refuse to lump Bellflower in with them. The movie is replete with naturalistic - almost neo-realist touches - and to label it with such an undignified genre-monicker just doesn't feel right. So I won't.

The story follows the slackers with a keen eye for observation and mundane details. Like all good bro-mances, though, things get complicated once members of the opposite sex get involved in their otherwise perfect, self absorbed lives.

It all starts at a cricket-eating contest in a local white trash bar. Yes, cricket-eating. I guess hole-in-the-wall joints in California have never heard of wet T-shirt contests. Woodrow enters the contest and finds himself squaring off with the sexy Milly (Jessie Wiseman). As the two of them shove live crickets into their mouths, it's love at first sight. Aiden takes up with Milly's cute friend Courtney (Rebekah Brandes), but things get romantically complicated when Milly continues an affair with Mike (Vincent Grashaw) behind his back. When he finds them balling together, all hell breaks loose - including Woodrow having an affair with Courtney behind Aiden's back.

These young people are pathetic, but Glodell really has a keen eye and ear for them and though we never quite connect with these wasted lives, we're always fascinated with them. The movie also has a dark, gritty appeal and we always feel a sense of something malevolent roiling deep beneath the surface.

Bellflower is a terrific feature debut and while I'm looking forward to more work from Glodell, I must admit some disappointment that he resorts to a series of arty-farty flash-forwards which tip us off - very early on - as to where the movie is going. What's frustrating is that without them, the movie had the potential to be one of those winning tales where you never quite knew where it was headed. For me, I had to settle for observational details rather than also being carried along by a narrative that otherwise would have been both original (as much of it still is) and surprising (which, alas, it isn't - save for Glodell's otherwise compelling mise-en-scene).

I saw through the picture immediately.

Maybe you won't, so I'll refrain from spoiling it for you.

"Bellflower" is available in a fabulous fully-loaded Blu-Ray and DVD set with the added bonus of super-cool package design. It's available in Canada from the visionary distributor Video Service Corp. (VSC) who are doing a bang-up job representing mega-cool Oscilloscope Pictures.