Forget those marmot-wielding guys in black from “The Big Lebowski.” Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) of “Bellflower” are the denotative Nihilists. Devoid of responsibilities, their days involve imbibing a constant stream of alcohol as they prepare for a “Mad Max” style post-apocalypse and… that’s about it. But their lives get a lot more eventful when Woodrow meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman), an equally unencumbered wild girl. They fall for each other like a ton of bricks but as the opening rapid fire backwards montage of brutality suggests, there’s no fairy tale ending for these crazy kids. What are on the menu, however, are large quantities of fire, one badass car and a riveting and wholly unique depiction of the dark places that love can take us. You may think you already know what heartbreak looks like, but trust me when I say you’ve never seen anything like Woodrow’s broken heart.
When we first meet Woodrow and Aiden, they’re doing what they probably do every day: build gadgets that serve no real purpose in civilization as it stands, but that would immediately rocket them to the top of the food chain if society crumbles. Their crowning achievement is a muscle car called, “Medusa.” This thing is Grace Jones on wheels: simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. But she won’t be complete until they can figure out a way to make her shoot flames. Only then will they truly be ready to rule like Lord Humungus.
Their end-of-days preparations are stymied when Woodrow meets Milly. Immediately smitten, he asks her out after she beats him in a cricket-eating contest at their local ironic hipster dive bar. Their first date turns into a week-long road trip to Texas, during which they get into a fight with a redneck, trade Woodrow’s tricked out car (complete with a whiskey dispenser in the dash) for a motorcycle, return to a raging party at Milly’s house, fight another guy and, finally, seal the deal with Aiden passed out a few feet away. Milly and Woodrow are balls out in love, but they’re clearly not headed for 2.5 kids in the suburbs.
Instead, the narrative beautifully smash-cuts straight to the end of the relationship, when, with just a few snippy exchanges, it’s clear that they have been living with deep-seated resentment for quite some time. Woodrow’s suspicions are confirmed when he walks in on Milly viciously fulfilling her first-date prediction that she would break his heart. Utterly distraught, Woodrow takes off on his motorcycle and soon, the rest of him is broken as well.
What happens next is as open to interpretation as it is horrifying. I don’t want to get into specifics but I doubt I could spoil the movie if I tried. Let’s just say that Aiden and Woodrow get their apocalypse, but it’s nothing like they, or you, could have imagined. I’m a recovering nail biter, and by the closing credits, I had fallen off the wagon pretty hard.
“Bellflower” isn’t just about the demise of young love. It also serves as shorthand for those kids currently experiencing early-adulthood limbo. They’re the Slacker Generation on alcoholic energy drinks. Their mechanical proficiency and eloquence suggest that they’re extremely gifted, if not formally educated. So what’s with the underachievement? There was probably never much hope for Milly. When I first saw her house, I actually thought she was a squatter. (Though, seeing as how she continuously stiffs her roommate on rent, she’s not far from it.) But with their skills, Woodrow and Aiden should be on “Mythbusters” instead of f*****g around with blowtorches in between house parties. Perhaps it’s not entirely their fault. Assuming they did go to college, they graduated in the middle of a recession. Maybe they looked for work for a long time, but eventually gave up and got used to cashing their unemployment checks, draining their trust funds or however it is they procure their mad money. Yet, they share a few things with the preceding generation, like the continuous pop-culture laden dialog, the boozy escapades of misspent youth and doing things just for the irony and experience of it. I suppose you could call the film an updated “Reality Bites,” only without the adorably optimistic notion that, somehow, things will turn out all right.
The film doesn’t pull any punches from a technical standpoint, either. Joel Hodge’s cinematography lends a frenetic quality to the look of the film, and the omnipresent Hipstamatic filter often makes Bellflower Avenue resemble the wasteland that Aiden and Woodrow long to dominate.
Also noteworthy is Tyler Dawson’s performance as Woodrow’s fiercely loyal best friend, Aiden. Early on, it seems as though Aiden’s purpose is nothing more than comic relief. But when the s**t hits the fan, his true character shines through, and Dawson handles it beautifully.
We can certainly credit some of “Bellflower’s” success to its basis in reality. Not only did Evan Glodell write, direct and star, he also built all the gadgets in the film, including the car and the camera used to capture it all. Normally, when someone spreads himself so thin on a film, some aspects will suffer for it. But Glodell doesn’t miss a beat. Perhaps it’s because the material is deeply personal. At a post-screening Q&A, Glodell confessed that he wrote “Bellflower” as purgation after ending a destructive relationship. That certainly explains the ultraviolence in the film. Let’s just hope the catharsis worked.