<strong>Bellflower</strong> (Evan Glodell, 2011)
I grant you, I have not yet seen many films made in 2011 (nine, according to my spreadsheet) and most of those have ranged from the aggressively mediocre to the outrageously awful (if you value your sanity, avoid <em>2012: Zombie Apocalypse</em> at all costs), and so I probably have no business opining on the best, worst, or anything else of 2011. And yet I will still tell you: when the dust settles, say five years from now when I have fifty or sixty movies made in 2011 under my belt, <em>Bellflower</em>, if it is not still perched atop my Best of 2011 list, is pretty much guarantted to still be somewhere in the top three. It's that good. Which is not to say it doesn't have its flaws, but it's still that good.
Plot: two slackers, Woodrow (director Glodell in his first feature appearance) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson, also in his first feature appearance), are obsessed with <em>The Road Warrior</em>, spending their days building flamethrowers and drawing concept art for their version of Medusa, Mel Gibson's car in the film. Life is going along just peachy unil Woodrow meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman in her first screen appearance), an outgoing, vivacious woman who he finds himself in a relationship with very quickly. This is the beginning of the strain on Woodrow and Aiden's friendship; the story, which develops an episodic feel later on, details the way the relationships between Woodrow, Aiden, and Milly's circle of friends change as the events that start from Woodrow and Milly's impulsive decision to drive to Texas on their first date escalate.
First off: this fim was criminally mismarketed as a sci-fi feature. One could conceivably call it fantasy, if you turn your head and squint right, but what it really is is a romantic drama with a kind of gritty realism that stems from Glodell's being realistic about his minuscule budget and embracing it in order to make his film look as polished and professional as possible. Second: these characters exist. That is the film's strongest point; you can look at at least one of these characters and say "I know that person" without any of the leaps or elisions necessary with most films given the two-dimensionality of most Hollywood characters (and the emotional shortcuts used to build them, as I've detailed in numerous previous reviews). The soundtrack is perfect, the cinematography is almost perfect (Glodell and Dawson hand-built the cameras used in the making of the movie, so had complete control over the film's look, and they knew what they were doing), Glodell's script is fantastic for about eighty of the movie's one hundred seven minutes.
Then comes the movie's biggest downfall: there's a series of what may or may not be fantasy or dream sequences, in some cases possibly nestled inside one another. It's a very, very difficult technique to pull off, and I'm not sure I've ever seen it successfully done in a movie; the closest media analogue I can come to what I think Glodell was trying to do in the last half-hour of this film is Catherynne Valente's novel <em>In the Night Garden</em>, with its stories-inside-stories-inside-stories structure. Glodell doesn't quite have enough of a handle on it, though it's impossible to say whether it's his inexperience as a filmmaker, his script, continuity issues, or any number of other factors contributed to the problems here. On the up side, it does keep people talking about the film, because they're wondering what the hell was going on there. On the downside, they're still talking about it, in the main, because they hated the last half-hour so much. I didn't; it seemed to me that if you paid enough attention you could work out which parts were Woodrow's revenge fantasies/wishes for things to go back to the way they were at the beginning of the story (that is, after all, the meaning of the opening scene, which gives us a reverse montage of key scenes from the movie) and which parts really happened--if any of them did. But you do have to pay attention, kind of in the same way you do in the final montage of <em>Poetry</em>. And if you had told me before I watched <em>Bellflower</em>, when I thought pretty much the same as everyone else about it, that I would be comparing it to <em>Poetry</em> with a straight face in my review, I'd have probably laughed at you... but at heart, the two of them are very much of a piece.
In short, a micro-budget film that doesn't come off feeling like a microbudget film. I expect great things from a lot of folks involved in this movie (especially Jessie Wiseman, whose performance is fearless, brazen, and occasionally heartbreaking). A lot of people ended up hating it because they thought they were getting something they didn't. Don't be that guy. Go into this movie with no expectations and be wowed by it. ****