Monday, December 3, 2012


(Evan Glodell, USA, 2011)

When Bellflower dropped back in 2011, it elicited both enthusiastic praise and rather harsh condemnation, with neither reaction coming from the quarters you might expect.  Richard Brody was all mushy over the film, while Glenn Kenny was appalled.  Kenny (and a few others) felt that the film was guilty of misogyny, and that its representation of male-female relationships was fraught with double standards.  Brody and company pushed back, defending the film as a perfectly acceptable and honest treatment of heartbreak and despair.

After seeing the film myself, I find myself coming down mostly in favor of the film; at the very least, I don't think that it's guilty of woman-hating. The male characters are immature and mostly bewildered by women, but they don't exhibit anything like a concerted hatred for the opposite sex.  The movie itself plays deliberately with the notion of reality and fantasy being willfully, and then not so willfully, entwined.  This allows for the climatic violence to be somewhat blunted in terms of its effects, but as a close female connection related to me, the particulars of the violence do seem to be female-specific in an especially unsettling way.  The best I can do is to call this all very unsettling, which, political correctness aside, is part-and-parcel with the kind of apocalyptic shadings that the film trades in.  Glodell, who in addition to co-writing and directing also plays Woodrow, is by most appearances a class-A dork, but he's also something of a self-styled macho man.   Lovelorn anguish is the engine that drives the film, but it's the historical framing that gives it any relevance.  Rather than just another story of male arrested development and heartbreak, it rather brilliantly incorporates various postindustrial anxieties.

All of that aside, it could be a much better film.  The only reason the characters are remotely watchable is that their obnoxiousness and cluelessness is so exaggerated that you kind of stop noticing.  This could be a clever gambit on the part of Glodell, because when things begin to get really weird, and you realize that the reality/fantasy line is being fudged, the utter outlandishness of some of the characters' behavior doesn't register as all that outlandish.  For these kind of unforced felicities, you can't help but admire the filmmakers.  On many levels, Bellflower is preposterous.  Glodell falls right into just about every pitfall involved in the fantasy/reality-blender film, but he does so with such gusto and apparent earnestness that it winds up being weirdly forgivable.  And yes, the flamethrower/car/gadgetry is pretty cool, if for no other reason than it represents a kind of dark perversion of the creative energy exhibited by these protagonists, an eerie premonition of the kind of harsh world that is an ever-increasing threat.

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