I tried, dear readers, I really tried to watch this indie darling with a new set of eyes now that it’s available on Blu-Ray. The special features set me up to fall in love with its “Can Do” spirit and heartfelt emotional journey with behind the scenes documentaries about its gung ho production cycle and mash notes to the film’s centerpiece, a muscle car named “Mother Medusa.” I watched these special features first, and they went a long way towards putting me in the mindset to love these plucky upstarts and their hit relationship drama from the Sundance Film Festival. And then I watched the movie again and… yup, Bellflower still sucks.
It’s still an awkwardly acted, poorly paced, naïvely plotted excuse for a narrative with memorable cinematography that distracts, occasionally, from the misogynistic storyline. The characters are still unemployed layabouts with a nearly infinite amount of disposable income with priorities so completely out of whack that they’ll trade a custom car with a built-in whiskey dispenser (as irresponsible as that is) for a beat up motorcycle that couldn’t fetch you more than a couple hundred dollars on Craigslist. And with rare exceptions, they’re still defined by superficial moments of “coolness,” like eating crickets in front of a live audience and sexually harassing an innocent girl at a party and then “heroically” pummeling the only person nice enough to come to her defense with a beer bottle.
Bellflower tells the story of Woodrow (writer/director Glodell), a shiftless and supposedly lovable loser who meets a pretty girl named Milly (Jessie Wiseman) at the aforementioned cricket-eating contest. On their first date they take an impromptu road trip to a dive bar in Texas, and decide to be in a relationship. But before long Milly cheats on Woodrow for no discernible reason with her vile roommate Mike (Vincent Grashaw) and Woodrow drives angrily away, getting hit by a car in the process and possibly suffering brain damage. Before long Woodrow, Milly and Mike find themselves in a downward spiral of revenge that ends in an unintentionally hilarious bloodbath and what I can only assume is an unintentionally horrifying macho display in which rape is portrayed as an effective relationship cure-all.
People like this movie. I suspect it has more to do with the story behind the film than the film itself. Glodell and his friends and associates boast an impressive and laudable “do it yourself” work ethic that led to them building their own cameras, flamethrowers and a tricked out Mad Max muscle car for the production. The ingenuity involved is striking, but not as striking as the disappointing narrative, which doubles back on itself for no particular reason in the last fifteen minutes, robbing their dynamic conclusion of its power and confusing the audience as to whether the sexual violence, and just plain violent violence, is all an uncomfortable power fantasy or an actual, deplorable series of events that would turn the protagonists in national punch lines once their exploits were revealed on the inevitable news stories the next day. In real life they would be written off as pathetic idiots with no common sense or impulse control, and on one hand that’s almost an interesting conceit: humanizing the lowlife maniacs whose petty misadventures turn into those “Aren’t You Glad It’s Not You” stories on your news outlet of choice. On the other hand, they’re not successfully humanized, so despite my innate desire to applaud the filmmakers’ efforts, I’m forced to boo them mightily instead, no matter how badass their flamethrowers are.
But it’s a pretty film, sort of. The sundrenched visual aesthetic goes a long way towards making Bellflower a distinctive cinematic experience, although the flawless high-definition transfer highlights the frequently misplaced focal lengths (possibly intentional, but ineffective if so). For those of you who love the movie – I know you’re out there, I’ve seen the message boards – then you’ll love Oscilloscope’s Blu-Ray release, which offers a nice look at the making of the film through the special features I mentioned above. But no amount of excellent presentation can save Bellflower from its own shortcomings, of which there are too many to count.
CRAVEONLINE RATING (FILM): 3/10
CRAVEONLINE RATING (BLU-RAY): 8/10*
Disclaimer: Our "Blu-Ray" rating is based entirely on the quality of the presentation, not the quality of the film.