The end of a relationship can feel like the end of the world. In Bellflower, it is—maybe. Irritating third-act ambiguity overtakes a semi-irritating straight narrative that promos will have you believe is about two friends half-jokingly preparing for a Mad Max-esque apocalypse. It’s not, really. It’s about love, the at-first-sight kind, the kind in which one person says, “I’ll hurt you” and the other says, “No you won’t” and then guess what happens. When things go south, clearly hell must be paid. Bitch set him up, and all that.
The cuckold in question is Woodrow (Evan Glodell, who also wrote, directed, and produced the film for a reported $17,000 using a customized camera). He and his best friend, Aiden (Tyler Dawson), are from Wisconsin and moved to California because “that’s what you do when you’re from Wisconsin.” They don’t appear to have jobs, yet somehow have money to build a flamethrower and trick out cars with more flamethrowers, surveillance equipment, and other stuff you’d need for the end of days. They also have funds to drink, a hobby that makes up even more of their routine than preparing for the apocalypse.
Woodrow’s soulmate is Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a young blonde thing who beats him at a cricket-eating contest and insists on their first date that he take her to the nastiest diner he knows. (Milly is so cool.) So they drive to Texas, bonding forever-for-now during the trip. Milly’s also got a BFF, Courtney (Rebekah Brandes), on whom Aiden is crushing. There are hints that Courtney is the most level-headed of the bunch, even though she carries a gun, but as written she’s little more than wide-eyed eye candy—as well as a source of revenge sex after Milly screws Woodrow over, Aiden be damned.
But their coupling takes place after Woodrow, no tear-in-my-beer type, storms out on Milly and gets hit by a car, suffering partial brain damage. So reality—like the rest of the film—is a big question mark. This is where things go bonkers. Suddenly everyone’s angry and readily violent to a somewhat gasp-inducing but mostly laughable degree. Really, these are the ramifications of a break-up? It’s such early-20s melodrama, but in a way it fits perfectly into a world in which people are drunk all the time, grow hipster beards, and talk to each other like this: “Dude, what’s up?” “Nothing, what’s up? Dude.”
Bellflower’s look has garnered the most attention. Shot on a modified digicam, the film has hypersaturated colors and a grime-coated glaze. It’s interesting, but not revelatory. The acting, even when the characters’ motivations are completely MIA, is natural, a not-unimpressive feat considering the central three are amateurs. (Glodell’s experience is mainly in cinematography.) How far along you stick with this story, then, will depend on your tolerance for idiots—aka freshly minted adults—behaving idiotically. At least Glodell is somewhat aware of what he’s offering: “You know our friends are a bunch of tools, right?” Milly’s roommate asks Courtney. Yes, we all do.
Mr. Nice Directed by Bernard Rose
Mr. Nice is the story of Howard Marks, a Welsh drug smuggler who was the Scarface of hash in the 1970s and ’80s, at one point allegedly controlling 10 percent of the drug’s global trade. Adapted from Marks’ autobiography by writer-director Bernard Rose (Immortal Beloved, Candyman), the film should be pretty exciting stuff. But by overly relying on narration, Mr. Nice tells much more than it shows. The and-then-this-happened moments are legion.
The film begins when Marks (Rhys Ifans) was still innocent little Howard, getting beaten up in school and improbably accepted into Oxford. He’s completely drug-naïve his freshman year, but that doesn’t last long—one puff of hash and soon he’s a Grade A dope fiend, experimenting with LSD and frequenting orgies. It’s all very “Wow, man!,” with the film popping into color after its black-and-white intro. (The whole thing looks like vintage film stock, the film’s most interesting aspect.) But then he marries a classmate named Ilze (Elsa Pataky), becomes a teacher, and decides that his profession demands he clean up his lifestyle. “I had gone straight, just as the rest of the country began to swing,” Marks narrates.
That lasts until a drug-smuggling friend ends up arrested and asks Marks to help him deliver some goods. The same day, Ilze announces she’s in love with someone else. The turn of events reminds Marks of how lucrative dealing can be and also has him hook up with a too-understanding woman named Judy (Chloë Sevigny), with whom he seems to immediately have a child. Development, particularly of the love story, isn’t exactly the film’s forte.
Soon Marks becomes mixed up with an IRA leader (David Thewlis) who helps him transport hash around the U.K. and soon to the U.S., aided stateside by an L.A. hippie played by Crispin Glover. The endless parade of plot speeds up: He opens a dress shop/front. He’s asked to be a spy. He gets into an accident while driving high. He gets caught smuggling, stages his own abduction, lives the good life for a while. It’s all depicted with such little tension or fanfare that we may as well be watching a cloistered monk go about his day. “I’d just imported enough Colombian marijuana into the U.K. to get every inhabitant of the British Isles stoned,” goes Ifans’ flat voiceover. Marks is arrested, gets acquitted, then arrested again. Ponderous is rarely so paint-by-numbers.
Ifans tries to inject Marks with as much rakish personality as he can, but the character is just a marionette tied to Rose’s jerky strings. Sevigny’s big accomplishment is getting the accent right, though eventually her Judy becomes the film’s most sympathetic character as their family grows and she begs her partner to stop dealing. The film’s title comes from a man whose identity Marks steals, the surname originally rhyming with “geese,” though Marks assumes it with an English pronunciation. In the end, Mr. Nice seems just that, with all the boring connotations nicety brings.