Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/20/11 02:43:13

"A bad breakup ain't that far from the end of civilization."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2011: The end of a relationship can certainly seem like the end of the world, and while "Bellflower" is not explicitly post-apocalyptic, it takes a number of its cues from that direction. It's not the first love story to do so, but it does an impressive job of hammering its particular point home: It may be easier to deal with the whole world falling apart than the end of things with that one other person.

Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Milly (Jessie Wiseman) don't really meet cute, unless you count competing against each other in an insect-eating contest at the Mad Dog bar cute. They hit it off, though, and after a first date that involves driving from California to Texas for the worst diner food Woodrow has ever seen - which best friends Aiden (Tyler Dawson) and Courtney (Rebekah Brandes) don't find hugely out of character, although it seems to annoy Milly's roommate Mike (Vincent Grashaw) - things seem to be going pretty well. The thing is, when the people in a relationship either build flamethrowers in their copious spare time or have a long history of self-destructive behavior, two thing can happen: Either they'll be a perfect match, or the end and fallout will be ugly. Maybe too ugly to make things right.

Bellflower makes a series of big-time right turns in the middle, and while they don't completely come out of nowhere, their suddenness is as much a punch in the gut as it is fitting. The first half of the movie is a wild love story, full of impulses and grand gestures, but genuine enough to get the audience genuinely invested in Woodrow and Milly. Glodell and Wiseman have quick and excellent chemistry, and the characters complement each other well; even the audience that isn't big on matching tattoos, modifying a car to dispense whiskey from its dashboard, or looking for trouble can appreciate the happy effect these two have on each other.

As enjoyable as the first half of the movie is, it's in the second when things get more interesting. Glodell writes and directs as well as playing the lead role, and what he goes for in the second half isn't particularly subtle - Woodrow gains physical scars the match his emotional ones, and the generally likable guy from the first act is buried equally behind anger and hair. As simple as that is, it's also effective, a straightforward but still affecting portrayal of heartbreak. Other members of the cast step up during this section as well: Tyler Dawson and Rebekah Brandes both give interesting, believable performances as friends doing their best to make things bearable, although it's an open question as to whether they're doing more harm than good in the long run.

After all, when a friend is hurting, is modifying his car to shoot fire the best thing to do, really? Still, it's hard to deny that Woodrow's and Aiden's custom vehicles give the movie a large dose of cool, especially Mother Medusa, the ultimate apocalypse survival car built and driven as the film goes on. Glodell and Dawson are genuine car guys who will proudly tell you that there is minimal effects trickery used in this movie - if they needed a car to shoot flames forty feet in the air, they built a car which could shoot flames forty feet in the air. They also built custom cameras and rigs, giving the movie a homemade, non-standardized feel. And while the movie and characters frequently cite Lord Humungus from Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior), the environment more often recalls the first - a run-down world where people mostly behave in familiar ways but suddenly seem to have very little in the way of civilization holding them back once things get bad.

That's a heck of a rough place to be when things fall apart. "Bellflower" isn't really the post-apocalyptic action movie that some of its more striking imagery suggests, but it is one heck of a rough-and-tumble love story.

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