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Review: 'Bellflower'

Vincent Grashaw and Jessica Wiseman star in "Bellflower."
Oscilloscope Pictures
Vincent Grashaw and Jessica Wiseman star in "Bellflower."

Dude, Where's the Apocalypse?

Mumblecore meets Mad Max... well sort of. "Bellflower" (finishing a week long run at Landmark's Ken Cinema this Thursday) is a DIY indie project.

The tagline on the poster for "Bellflower" promises, "A love story with apocalyptic stakes." The image is of a young couple embracing in front of a massive, fiery explosion and a cool looking Mad Maxish vehicle with the name Medusa. Okay. That got my attention. Not being one for love stories I thought maybe this is a love story that would grab my attention. Sadly there was too much love story and not enough apocalypse. And to add to my disappointment, it felt very much like a mumblecore film although it seemed to be desperately trying for something geekier and more fun.

"Bellflower" focuses on two friends, Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson), who are trying to grow up... well sort of. They seem to spend most of their time building flame-throwers, assorted weapons and a car called Medusa, all vaguely inspired by the post-apocalyptic Australian film "Mad Max." But as they wait for the apocalypse, life mundanely goes on. Then a boisterous young woman enters the scene and throws their lives into chaos and brings on a small scale Armageddon that in the egocentric style of the mumblecore genre is presented as more cataclysmic than a global apocalypse.

Bellflower Movie (2011) Trailer

"Bellflower" is a small scale film pumped up with big ideas about itself. It has a certain charm, mostly involving the two friends and their obsession with "Mad Max." If it stayed on this geeky terrain it might have won me over. It tried to strut its geek cred at Comic-Con by bringing the Medusa car to San Diego. But while the film may display geeky affection for the "Mad Max" post-apocalyptic scenario it is by no means a fan boy film. Plus it drifts into soap opera territory as it chronicles Woodrow's first "serious" relationship. But this ain't no "Romeo and Juliet" even though filmmaker Evan Glodell seems to think it has the same weight. The characters just feel so blandly mundane that it's hard to generate much interest in them. Then when they start to behave stupidly, it's hard to feel much compassion for them.

Glodell is not capturing real life the way someone like John Cassavetes did in "A Woman Under the Influence." Cassavetes made us feel like we were watching an artist at work. Glodell makes us feel like we're watching his home movies, as if he and his friends got together one weekend and just let the cameras roll and thinking they are all fascinating enough to keep us riveted to the screen, But they're not. One film is art conveying reality, the other reality masquerading as art.

I don't mean to sound too harsh because as I mentioned there is a certain appeal to the two main guys are likable and Glodell has crafted a truly independent film for $17,000. I almost feel bad criticizing the film because it's such a small and obviously sincere film yet it never won me over. Glodell brings in bromance elements but without the ease and humor of Judd Apatow's films. And if Woodrew and Aiden said "Dude" one more time I was going to beat them over the head with Seann William Scott. It just rings false like when Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald's book keeps saying "Old sport" to try and fit in. So it straddles genres awkwardly.

"Bellflower" (rated R for disturbing violence, some strong sexuality, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use) has some admirable qualities but just not enough. The best mumblecore romance I've seen so far is "In Search of a Midnight Kiss." So I suggest a double bill of that and "Mad Max" will provide satisfaction to the promise of "a love story with apocalyptic stakes."


Companion viewing: "Mad Max," "In Search of a Midnight Kiss," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"