BEING BRADFORD DILLMAN (2011) – The Short Review
We often say the strangest things to children without even realizing how odd it sounds. Children are full of questions, constantly confused by the world or misguided by falsehoods or exaggerations. When children bring these questions to us, as adults, we’re often unsure how to broach certain subjects, so in an effort to spin the answer in a way that will satisfy the child, but not lead on to disclosing too much information too soon, we create these elaborate, often ridiculous stories in place of the simple, honest truth.
For me, watching BEING BRADFORD DILLMAN is a wonderful exercise in recognizing this tendency to conjure up vivid yarns in place of offering a more straight-forward response. Directed by Emma Burch and co-written with Peter Williamson, this is the story of little Molly Flowers, a young girl who declares to her alcoholic mother that she hates boys and wishes they all die after being picked on one too many times. Either stunned by this statement, or driven by her vodka-induced state of mind, Molly’s Mum (voiced by Morwenna Banks) spills a story about how Molly was actually born a boy, named Bradford Dillman, but as she so wanted a little girl, asked the doctor to cut off his willy. Having done so, Molly’s mum now had the girl she wanted and even tells Molly she kept her willy inside a shoebox atop her wardrobe.
My instinctual reaction is one of “who does this?!?” Then I realize many a parent has probably woven a story or two for their children even more bizarre than this. Being a child with an active imagination, as most children do, Molly begins to contemplate what this all means on her terms, subject to her own limited knowledge and innocent perspective of the world. Enter Bradford Dillman… as Molly toys with the idea of retrieving her willy from the infamous shoebox atop the wardrobe, she meets Bradford, a boy of her age who becomes her friend.
Both Molly and Bradford are voiced by Natasha Holberton with a wonderfully curious and playful, yet cynical beyond her years undertone that makes her adventure with Bradford that much more, shall we say… mature. BEING BRADFORD DILLMAN is a family film, of sorts. Holberton gives Molly an energy and innocence fitting of a young girl, but also conveys an inkling of forced maturity, most likely brought on by her single mother’s drinking, smoking and pill-popping habits. The subject matter is kept within bounds of being acceptable for a child’s eyes and ears, but just beneath the surface lies an adult sense of humor that cannot be ignored.
BEING BRADFORD DILLMAN is an animated film with a style that is part marionette and part paper cut-out. The color and texture of the film is gritty and earthy, conveying a sense of dingy darkness to to the story. The artwork features over-sized heads and massively cute yet imposing eyes on Molly and Bradford, while Mum’s face is never revealed, a la the Peanuts cartoons, or Tom & Jerry, whereas the adults are not emphasized as the crucial element of the story. The visual style of BEING BRADFORD DILLMAN reminds me slightly of a cross between Tim Burton and David Lynch, but ever so slightly more refined and traditional as to minimize the awkward weirdness of the Molly’s world without eliminating the uncomfortably bizarre nature of what is taking place in the film. Likewise, I am keen to the writing of the film, funny and cute while just mature enough to draw in the adult audience, especially given the tale Molly’s mum tells that sets Molly on her journey of misguided self-discovery. As for a message, I am certain there is one to be had, but I have yet to pinpoint exactly what it is meant to be, or even what I took the message away as, if I took one away at all.
This tan and sepia world in which Molly lives has a pleasant flavor as BEING BRADFORD DILLMAN is not a sad, downer film. On the contrary, I felt oddly uplifted and happy after watching the film. The closest thing I can compare this to would be Tim Burton’s flash animated series called THE WORLD OF STAINBOY, both in tone and in style, but do not mistake this as being a literal or direct comparison, rather more of an impressionistic similarity that falls within a broad tonal category.