Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bellflower (Evan Glodell, 2011) -- B+

Say what you will about the unfortunate descent into nihilistic wish-fulfillment violence and self-absorption during its final third, there's no denying the passionate ferocity that first-time director Evan Glodell emanates throughout the often exquisite Bellflower; equal parts Blue Valentine personal crisis, Bully amoral societal expose, the eventual turn towards violence and degeneracy is wrapped tightly in the helplessness of Woodrow (Evan Glodell), whose deteriorating relationship with Milly (Jessie Wiseman), which is beautifully, hauntingly established in the film's first half, causes him to lose his grip on reality, decency, and loyalty to often obnoxious BFF Aiden (Tyler Dawson). Glodell smartly chops down on the quirky, self-pitying factor that usually accompanies Sundance stamped pictures by both streamlining all of the relationship insight (every second of it seems culled from personal experience, but not made precious) and catalyzing his gritty aesthetic not with long takes, but quick, non-causal edits, suitably jumbling viewer comprehension of the "facts," just as Woodrow will eventually be unable to distinguish reality from fantasy.

The latter issue will likely stir up much debate with this film; for many, it will be a "did it all really happen?" sort of question, but simply stopping there misses a much greater complexity in Glodell's suggestions about isolation, male camaraderie, and the posturing images of masculinity, embodied by the central pair's favorite film - Mad Max. However, what's so exciting about Glodell is his ability to traverse the referential turf without succumbing to what lesser filmmakers would: hero-worship. Undoubtedly, George Miller's original influenced much of Glodell's boyhood constructions of physical brutality directly translating to manhood (just as it does for Woodrow and Aiden), but he succeeds those influences by channeling his own angsts and anxieties - most notably, the desire to disregard humanity for self-aggrandizing assertion, strictly through violence. Is Bellflower nihilistic and misogynist? Well, the fantasies of the lead characters certainly are, and the trouble with Glodell's debut feature is that it spends much of the duration of its second half treating fantasy as reality, satiating its characters' self-destructively callous (homicidal, rapist) unconscious and, perhaps, the viewer's too. Were Glodell more attuned to spectatorship, he could have one upped Michael Haneke without the condescension - he doesn't resort to those tactics, but he lacks Haneke's keen insight as it relates to cinematic violence. For too much of Bellflower, these sadistic tendencies are presented as primal (an incorrect extrapolation), mid-twenties heartbreak as personal apocalypse, where much of the surrounding milieu literally comes crashing down in flames. These are mistakes, but ones that do not negate Glodell's exhilarating eye for human behavioral traits, individual shots, and moments of grace, even if most of it is unfortunately predicated on celebrating solipsism.