Recent years have ushered in a new genre of movies focused on male relationships, the bromance. Where male friendship has always been a feature of onscreen buddy films from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to the good cop/bad cop repartee of Lethal Weapon, the bromance of I Love You, Man, Superbad, and Knocked Upbsignaled a sea change of softer, Gen-Xier, post-irony values and the kind of emotion-barring intimacy that rivaled the soulful connections in traditional heterosexual romance. Male relationships became the enveloping, well-worn corduroy recliner of modern life: a familiar comfort amidst the thornier real-world dilemmas of dating, employment, and existential angst.
The low-budget indie Bellflower takes the bromance to its apocalyptic end road suggesting that in a world of disappointing options in the female department, the best companion any man can hope for is his best friend. And a flame thrower. If Brokeback Mountain was an unapologetic dude love affair, Bellflower is a tempestuous threesome involving two guys and the weaponry they use to get their rocks off when the usual boy-girl love just can’t cut it.
Visually innovative, but a real emotional and political thumb sucker, Bellflower is a tale of two Wisconsin friends shacked up in a tiny bungalow in an armpit section of Los Angeles. Obsessed with the 1979 George Miller post-apocalyptic yarn Mad Max, roommates and best friends Woodrow (Evan Glodell, the film’s writer and director) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) spend their time quoting lines and creating explosions, muscle cars, and weapons modeled on the film. Shot on a shoestring budget of $17,000 in and around Ventura, California, Bellflower employs a customized digital movie camera and lensing by Joel Hodge that makes contemporary Los Angeles look, at times, mere seconds away from rapture. With its golden light, irised shots, and copious use of tilt-shift lensing, through which people and landscapes take on the look of scale-model miniatures, the film’s gloss of ugliness is given a disconcerting Fisher-Price adorableness.
But the real emotional apocalypse comes when buddies Woodrow and Aiden allow a woman to come between them: a pert, tough-talking blonde Milly (Jessie Wiseman) with the hands-on-her-hips moxie of a postfeminist Joan Blondell. Woodrow and Milly take off on a romantic road trip involving copious ingestion of the whiskey that inventor Woodrow has rigged to pump from a bar on his dashboard. But their road adventure is just a delay and distraction from the cataclysmic meltdown that awaits back home.
Bellflower combines an almost childlike immaturity with a jaded, wastrel sensibility familiar from any cheese ball mainstream comedy founded on money shots of, and a perpetually simmering disdain for, the naked young women who ornament its action. When the promised breakup that Milly hints about comes to fruition, Woodrow is transformed from an amiable kid into a war-wounded half-man. In scenes that toy with the audience’s sense of truth and fiction, Woodrow goes on an end-times rampage of distraught destruction. Steeped in the hyperbolic, at times ludicrously silly emotions of kids just out of adolescence, Bellflower is filled with the boiling hot misogynist frenzy of old school drive-in fare, even as its circular, nowhere, half-baked dialogue is steeped in the mumblecore ethos of its own age. Its inclusion in Sundance and SXSW notwithstanding, with its grease-monkey fixations and its series of sexual reveries via weaponry, Bellflower suggests the scurviest days of Sixties and Seventies exploitation film, its otherworldly visual panache and girl-directed rage like Lars von Trier’s Antichrist crossed with a vintage copy of Hustler magazine. It will be up for viewers to decide how seriously to take it all, and to determine if Bellflower is truly as hateful—especially regarding women—as it seems, or just the expression of an emotional stuntedness comparable to an infant raging at its mother’s withheld breast. In Woodrow and Aiden’s self-willed apocalypse, the pair seem, more than furious at women, hellbent on avoiding the nightmare of adulthood.
With its egg-yolk light and the feeling of a world so hermetically sealed that matters of income, work, school, or anything beyond the immediate experience of the main characters is inconsequential, Bellflower makes the contemporary urban world into something like an extended play date with beer and sex instead of juice boxes and wooden blocks. Had the film been cast with actors more downtrodden and blue collar than the shiny, self-assured kids of Bellflower, the film would surely have a greater pathos and grit.
Felicia Feaster is an Atlanta editor and writer who worked, most recently, as the senior editor at The Atlantan. Her writing has appeared in Creative Loafing, Elle, Playboy.com, Atlanta magazine, Art in America, ART PAPERS, Sculpture, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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