With its mixture of romantic road trips and homemade flamethrowers, a meet-cute over a cricket-eating contest and a brutally bloody climax, "Bellflower" is the real crazy, stupid love.
It's mesmerizing the way Evan Glodell's film changes. You know something horrible is going to happen because flashes of it flicker before us at the film's start; they don't make sense but they establish an inescapable tension. Still, "Bellflower" lulls you in with the natural rhythms of its sweetly idyllic, hipster love affair, only to morph into something disturbingly dark and violent. It happens so subtly, you won't believe it occurred before your very eyes.
"Subtle" isn't a word you would apply often here, but its brazenness is part of its allure. Glodell directed, wrote, co-produced, co-edited and stars in this ultra-low budget film — his feature debut — which essentially suggests that getting your heart broken is tantamount to the apocalypse. And it can certainly feel like that when you're in the middle of it. But Glodell takes this notion to incendiary heights, and in doing so, has made one of the most wildly creative movies to come along in a while.
He even built the camera used to shoot "Bellflower," which allows for an oversaturation of colors that vividly reflects his characters' extremes. That's just one of many examples of how personal this story is for Glodell, who based it on a bad break-up of his own; "Bellflower" might not serve as the best dating video for him.
Things are bopping along in hunky-dory fashion at the beginning, though. Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden (a hugely charismatic Tyler Dawson) spend their days in sun-drenched Southern California crafting "Mad Max"-inspired weapons and gadgets. (The title comes from the name of the street where much of the action takes place.) Their piece de resistance is "The Medusa," a muscle car that shoots flames out the back. They're slackers with an imagination — as well as a seemingly unlimited supply of cash for beer and cigarettes — and the banter between Glodell and Dawson feels so organic, you'd swear they truly were lifelong best friends.
Then one night at their favorite local bar, Woodrow crosses paths with Milly (Jessie Wiseman) when they both agree to jump on stage and see who can scarf down the most crickets. She's sexy, funny, irreverent, totally herself — and Woodrow is quickly smitten. Aiden, meanwhile, begins a flirtation with Milly's best friend, Courtney (Rebekah Brandes). When they're all together, the party never ends. Until one day, it does.
"Bellflower" explores the ways in which we convince ourselves that a man or a woman is right for us in the giddy glow of a new relationship, the way we assign ideal characteristics that may or may not actually be there. Woodrow's state of mind becomes so unreliable as he sinks deeper into despair over the break-up, we wonder whether Milly was ever as great as she was initially depicted — and we wonder what's real as "Bellflower" reaches its explosive conclusion.
The combination of insightful truths and imaginative visuals is what makes "Bellflower" so thrilling, and it offers hope that original storytelling is still out there, lurking in the darkness, just waiting for a massive flamethrower to light it up.
"Bellflower," an Oscilloscope Laboratories release, is rated R for disturbing violence, some strong sexuality, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use. Running time: 105 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.