Is Indie Smash 'Bellflower' Sexist? Sure, but Also Derivative

It's not a critique of men being savage but rather a pastiche of other films about men being savage

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Oscilloscope Laboratories

Accusations of misogyny are frequently leveled this time of year against studio product like Transformers 3 and The Change-Up, but one very well-reviewed art-house film has recently come under attack for its alleged woman-bashing.

The film in question, Bellflower, is a very stylish, very low-budget Sundance smash that opened in New York and L.A. on Friday. In the unusual breakup story, two mutually supportive dudes with nothing but time on their hands, Woodrow (writer/director/producer Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson), generally flaunt their brand of beer-and-bacon machismo. After a honeymoon period, their love interests, Milly (Jessie Wiseman) and Courtney (Rebekah Brandes), only manage to anger and irritate them.

So what, exactly, is Bellflower's stance on Woodrow and Aiden's hyper-masculine fantasies of destruction, and women in general? The question has troubled a number of critics, with some hurling full-on accusations of sexism at the film. In his Onion AV Club review, Keith Phipps says that Bellflower "becomes a film about men who hate women, and it comes awfully close to endorsing their point of view," while in response, critic Glenn Kenny asserts that "it doesn't 'come close' to endorsing that point of view, it absolutely embodies that point of view, it can see no other possibility but that point of view, it IS that point of view." Kenny highlights in particular the film's double standard regarding the character of Milly, whose "recklessness and irresponsibility" the film only tolerates up to a point.

The film serves as a field test for how spectacularly a men-will-be-boys ethos combusts when a few spoonfuls of grown-up heartbreak are added to the mix

Even the many favorable takes on the film have found it necessary to grapple with the film's treatment of its primary female characters and the general impression it conveys that the entire southwestern United States has been converted into a gearhead man-cave smeared with blood and motor oil. In his enthusiastic review, MSN Movies' James Rocchi writes that "this isn't a movie about female characters who only deserve to be hated and hurt by male ones; it's a movie about men who, confused, may only know how to hate and hurt, might only be able to imagine hate and hurt, and how this terrifies them."

Before progressing to "hate and hurt," Bellflower portrays more innocent adolescent behavior. Woodrow and Aiden are in the midst of building out their Road Warrior obsession. Having long since outgrown Hot Wheels and Legos (paying rent, or not, is the one form of adult responsibility repeatedly discussed by the film's characters), the two instead rig up functional, life-size flamethrowers and hot rods from parts on special order. (Glodell himself custom-built many of the items on display, including the flamethrower and the dream car that's christened "Medusa," as well as the camera that captures the action as if through a jaundice-tinted smear of gasoline.) Just as Woodrow and Aiden experiment with their doomsday prototypes, the film itself serves as a kind of field test for how spectacularly this men-will-be-boys ethos combusts when a few spoonfuls of grown-up heartbreak are added to the mix.

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Benjamin Mercer has written on film for The Village Voice, The New York Sun, The L Magazine, and Reverse Shot. He is a copy editor at Bookforum. More

He has also copyedited for two New York dailies: The New York Sun and amNewYork.

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