At first, the plot of Bellflower seems seems to follow a familiar path: Boy is romantically frustrated, meets cute girl, goes on a quirky date and falls in love; girl breaks boy’s heart, and buddy tries to help him pick up the pieces. But then the plot twists and turns unexpectedly. A truly epic muscle car is built, complete with shotguns and flamethrowers. Many, many things explode or catch fire. Skulls are caved in, both accidentally and intentionally. This is not your mother’s indie rom-com.
The product of a miniscule budget, eight years of work, and countless hours spent building flamethrowers, custom cars, and various other implements of destruction, Bellflower is like no film you’ve ever seen. Glodell and cinematographer Joel Hodge shoot many of the scenes in high-contrast, shaky shots, giving the entire film a dreamlike quality (Glodell also custom-built some of the camera equipment used in shooting). The shifts from those stylized scenes to more conventional shooting only add to the sense of disorientation and disaffection that hangs over the entire film.
Often a concept-heavy film like Bellflower suffers from lack of sufficient attention to, you know, storytelling, but that’s definitely not the case here. As protagonist Woodrow, Glodell is so sweet and goofy in his role that you’ll immediately finds yourself rooting for him, and he and real-life buddy Tyler Dawson (Aiden) have a great chemistry onscreen. Aiden’s matter-of-fact devotion to Woodrow (Dawson plays the role to perfection) is one of the most touching aspects of the movie; their love story is really at the heart of the film. Even if it’s often obscured by (or is it illuminated by?) discussions about building monster cars and flamethrowers to slay their enemies, forming the Mother Medusa gang, and idolizing a mythical role model named Lord Humungus, only loosely based on the Lord Humongous from Mad Max.
And, of course, discussions about women. Young men’s confusion about women is, as much as anything, the central theme of Bellflower, and although the boys’ discussion of women does occasionally cross into aggression, it’s obviously more about the pain at hand than about true misogyny. Even once the film takes its dark turn.
Those women provide a good bit of fuel for the rage. Rebekah Brandes embues Courtney with a just-under-the-surface wildness that is fascinating to watch. And Jessie Wiseman, as Woodrow’s love interest Milly, pulls off a very difficult task with aplomb. It’s so crucial for us to fall in love with Milly along with Woodrow, and later to simultaneously love and hate her, just like Woodrow. In Wiseman’s expert hands, Millie brings out both emotions.
Not everything in Bellflower completely works, as you’d expect from so audaciously daring a film from a first-time feature writer/director. But it’s got more great ideas, takes more daring chances, and has more life in it than just about anything you’re likely to see all summer. Glodell, Dawson, Wiseman, Brandes, Hodge, and producer/actor Vincent Grashaw have hit a home run that should lead to bigger things for all of them, especially Glodell. This is an impressive debut by an exciting new talent.