Tag Archives: Mumblecore


DIRECTED BY: Evan Glodell

FEATURING: Evan Glodell, Tyler Dawson, Jessie Wiseman, Rebekah Brandes

PLOT:  Two jobless, hard-drinking college-age kids struggle with relationships as they

Still from Bellflower (2011)

spend their free time building flamethrowers and post-apocalyptic cars out of their favorite film, The Road Warrior.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Try telling people that a movie about the boozy, hallucination-ridden adventures of two slacker dudes who build mad muscle cars in hopes they can rule when Armageddon arrives doesn’t strike you as very weird, and they’ll look at you like you’re crazy.  But you’re right; at bottom, Bellflower is pretty ordinary (for the indie scene, that is).

COMMENTS:  Don’t be fooled by the marketing; despite the references to The Road Warrior, the flame-spewing hot rod centerpiece, and a brutally violent ending, for the most part Bellflower is indie mumblecore drama at its most relentlessly talky.  It’s hard to figure out how to take the movie, because it’s unclear how much of the script is deliberately delusional, and how much is merely myopic.  Thanks to a jumble of flashbacks and fantasies that fill the film’s final fifteen minutes, we’re not sure exactly how tragically Woodrow and Milly’s doomed love resolves, but a more subtle strangeness creeps in long before that.  Bellflower takes place in a Southern California suburb where everyone is over 21 and under 30 years old.  No one who lives there has ever heard of words like “school” or “job” (when Milly asks Woodrow what he does, his answer is “I’m building a flamethrower”), but they all have endless invisible lines of credit to pay for rent, booze, surplus car parts, and munitions.  It’s the perfect movie for anyone who has ever daydreamed about taking off for Texas on the spur of the moment in a car with a dashboard whiskey dispenser (Milly observes “it’s like a James Bond car for drunks!”) to eat truck stop meatloaf on a dare; it’s a dream of endlessly extended adolescence.  On the one hand, the entire story hangs on to plausibility’s cliff by just its fingernail; but on the other hand, it’s presented with hardcore realism—bad beards, overlapping slacker dialogue, and all.  Consider, for a moment, the following exchange.  After Woodrow is struck by a car, possibly sustaining brain damage, his loyal pal Aiden tells him, “you were pretty messed up, mumbling all sorts of weird crap.”  Woodrow asks: “Was it awesome?”  Aiden: “No, dude, it wasn’t awesome!”  This is an egregious example of typical Bellflower dialogue (I didn’t count words, but I wouldn’t be that shocked to hear that 1/10 of the words in the script were either “dude” or “awesome”).  It sounds like it should be a sly comment on the vacuous vocabulary of youth, but there’s little obvious humor or insight to suggest either satire or subcultural self-reflection; it seems aimed at trying to capture “the way people really talk.”  Woodrow and Aiden are obsessed with the “Mad Max” movies and look to Lord Humungous as a role model, but they’re way too cool to believe the apocalypse is literally coming (that would be a different movie).  They’re just extreme, photogenic fanboys with way too much free time on their hands with which to build awesome muscle cars.  It’s possible the entire movie—and not just the apocalyptic, romantic finale—is meant to be nerdy Woodrow’s self-aggrandizing, psychotic hallucination, but the film gives every indication of wanting to be taken seriously as an earnest romantic drama.  In reality, geeky tinkerers Woodrow and Aiden would be delusional dweebs, more Gyro Captains than Lord Humungouses, but Bellflower seems eager to convince us they’re actually awesome lady killers who melt the panties off hot hipster chicks.  To which I can only say: seriously, dude?

As much as I had problems with Bellflower‘s script, which never nails down a sure attitude to its characters’ lives, the technical aspects of the film (especially Joel Hodge’s cinematography) are excellent for a first feature.  Technical types will love this YouTube video the crew put up explaining the “ghetto-rigged” homemade camera they built for the shoot.  This is the equipment everyone will be using to shoot films after the apocalypse.


“A weird mix of John Hughes and ‘Mad Max’… with the sunburned intensity of a high-summer fever dream.”–James Rocchi (festival screening)



DIRECTED BY: Ronald Bronstein

FEATURING: Dore Mann, David Sandholm, Paul Grimstad

PLOT: A pathetic loser named Keith lives a putrid existence in his sigh-

Still from Frownland (2007)

inducing apartment. He is horribly flawed in every way: vacuous, temperamental, and repulsively stupid. He lives with a roommate he wants to rid himself of, he tries to romance women to no avail, and his attempts to better himself in any way only exacerbate his terminal lameness.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE:  The titanic sadness at the center of Frownland is certainly profound enough to be considered weird.  It calls to a part of us that we all carry within: that anti-social, misfit side who feels that, truly, in our heart of hearts, we are ugly and alone.  Only, in Keith, we find that part magnified, personified to a hideous degree.  There is something quietly disturbing about a man struggling with so many problems adapting to society, trying to overcome the shame he feels in himself and his deplorable condition.  But to say that it is weird based on that facet alone is to ignore the unflinching blandness surrounding Keith and the lack of any character whatsoever in the world Frownland creates.

COMMENTS: Cited by many media outlets as a comedy, Frownland is a crushing personal statement of loneliness and isolation in a city of millions.  If this is a comedy, then it is a comedy of the absurdity to which modern life is betrothed.

From the very first moment, Ronald Bronstein fashions an air of shame and anxiety around the central character, Keith, that is hard to shake.  Keith is a dreg of humanity, a product of a lack of any esteem or dignity, and while it doesn’t excuse his behavior at times, it is worth noting that he isn’t exactly like the hideous beast he watches on a televised horror movie in an early scene.  But everything about him is unappealing, from his appearance to his treatment of his semi-friends to the way he lies just to try to relate to other human beings.  He is not even an anti-hero: he’s an anti-anything, a character that admittedly took a lot of guts to commit to film, and one that will live in infamy in the indie circuit for years to come.

Bronstein has a very dark, organic vision that threatens to swallow the viewer in a miasma of dilapidated retro culture.  It has the heart of an angst-ridden 70s independent feature, the set pieces of an 80s European film, the youth-centric mindset of a low-budget 90s film, but for all we know it is set in 2007.  Nothing is given as far as details, and we can only guess while the unsettling score drifts in and out of the background.  It is an effort that many will compare to John Cassavetes, with its heavy mood and deeply troubled characters, but in the rhythms and pacing of the hypnotic dialog Bronstein traces out, I think there is a real visionary here who stands out from his peers.

Frownland is a work of art that tests us on a very cerebral level, and I for one am glad to have seen it.  I think it’s fair to keep this on the borderline for now, but with enough support behind it, it may very well earn its own spot on the List.  For a comedy in which I never laughed once, this might just be the best comedy I’ve seen all year.


“…either a primal scream issued from a potentially dangerous mind, a wildly original work of outsider art, a doctoral thesis on how not to make friends and influence people, or all (or none) of the above. Only this much is certain: It’s been a while since something this gonzo turned up at a theater near you.”–Scott Foundas, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

This movie was suggested for review by reader “Rob”. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.