Soapbox: Why Is Everyone Going Crazy Over “Bellflower”?

Back in 2004, I was sent to review a little movie called “Sideways.” It was the story of two 40-something dudes embarking on a wine-tasting trip, one of them hoping for a last fling before he gets married. The Pinot Noir talk in the movie made me roll my eyes, so hard I almost got a headache. I also fell asleep in the middle. I ended up giving the flick a blah review. So imagine my surprise when other reviews started coming in and everyone loved it. It went on to win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The whole experience left me scratching my head and thinking, Did I miss something?

I’m having the same experience with “Bellflower,” an indie movie that made a big splash at Sundance last spring and that was just released in theaters on Friday. Currently, the movie’s rating on Metascore is 74—very high. Critics from The Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times have given it raves. I had high hopes a few weeks ago when I went to see a special screening of the movie, which was written and directed by Evan Glodell, who also stars as its anti-hero. The trailer looked awesome and the soundtrack boasted many of my favorite bands. The woman introducing the movie further pumped up my expectations saying, “I couldn’t get it out of mind.”

Here is the plot, at least in my interpretation. And yes there are absolutely other possible interpretations, as it’s one of those movies that’s structured like a cubist painting.

(If you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to know too much, SPOILER ALERT.)

Two best friends, Woodrow and Aiden are 20-somethings obsessed with “Mad Max.” They don’t appear to have jobs, but they work very hard on building a flamethrower and outfitting their car with a whiskey shot dispenser. Their dream: turning a muscle car into the Medusa. At a bar one night, Woodrow meets a girl, Milly, who he is instantly taken with. One road trip to Texas later and they’re in love. But these two aren’t sweet as sweet can be, they are adrenaline junkies seeking anything that makes them feel something other than malaise.

At some point in the future, Woodrow walks into Milly’s house and finds her having sex with another man. He runs outside and hops on his motorcycle—and is hit by car. From there, the rest of what we see is—again, in my interpretation—a mixture of reality with the increasingly dystopian delusions of someone who has had a psychotic break. I won’t give away too much more. But suffice it to say that harsh fight scenes follow, as do inverse sexual betrayals. Milly’s things are firebombed. “You are Lord Humungous,” Aiden says to Woodrow, invoking the “Mad Max” character they worship. “Lord Humungous dominates his women and they like it.” In the culminating scene, there’s a brutal rape. And shortly after, another female character’s brains are blown out in a sequence that literally made me grasp my stomach. Luckily, there’s a final scene that backtracks a bit on what came before.

I’m not suggesting that movies with gory imagery or difficult-to-watch scenes cannot be good, because we all know that’s not true. And I guess part of what I’m saying here is that the movie wasn’t to my taste, since I’m someone who is sensitive to the way women are portrayed onscreen. But at the screening I attended, it was when Evan Glodell took the podium that I started to get more of a bad taste in my mouth about this movie. I expected him to be very different from his character, and to have coherent, well thought-out answers for why he went to such dark places in this film and what he was attempting to say by going there. He didn’t. He used even more “ums” then his onscreen persona. The more he talked, the more it became clear that there wasn’t much of a split between the two at all. His explanation for the heavy “Mad Max” influence on the movie? Well, he really likes “Mad Max.” The Medusa car in the flick? It’s the car he uses everyday. The inspiration for the movie? A breakup that left him really angry.

Toward the end of the Q+A, someone got brave and asked him if he thought there was a “feminist critique of the film.” I wish I’d taken notes so that I could give you his exact quote, but he essentially said that this was a movie about a character imagining the worst in the women around him. It didn’t feel like a satisfying enough answer for inflicting so much violence on the women onscreen.

In the end, I wanted the same thing for Glodell that I wanted for Woodrow and Aiden in the movie. The two were hugely talented engineers—if only they’d found a more productive place to channel their creative energy. Glodell is obviously a very talented filmmaker. “Bellflower” looks amazing—it has a stunning, sun-drenched quality that becomes downright eerie thanks to specialty cameras he crafted for use in the film. With some of his anger channeled out in “Bellflower,” I’ll hope that his testosterone-soaked dystopia is fulfilled. And that in his next flick, he’ll turn his cameras on female characters who have more than one dimension. And who don’t end up so physically battered in the end.

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