Sunday, August 21, 2011

Buffalo '66 (Gallo. 1998)

"You adore me, you love me, you cherish me, Jesus Christ you can't live without me."

As a follower in the Cult of Roger Ebert, I am almost required to hate Vincent Gallo. As an actor, Gallo is almost talentless. On the other hand, his writing and direction could be ranked with the most original and interesting filmmaker aspects I have ever seen. In the film, Buffalo '66, we are introduced to a character with no desirable qualities. From the beginning the audience is disgusted by Billy Brown. Mainly because they assume he is a heartless ex-convict with a tendency to spin lies for his loving mother.

After tumbling into a lower level tap dancing class, Brown kidnaps the strangely adolescent looking Layla and forces her, almost too easily, to pose as his wife. He renames her, gives her a new back story and even threatens to kill her if she does not comply. Even though she has been thrust into the unloving arms of a violent stranger, Layla remains calm. This is the dynamic that made the movie work for me.

Right quickly we will go back to the character of Billy Brown. Eventually we see, through box-cut flashbacks for development, that his home life is nowhere near what the audience had originally pieced together. His father is a creepy, abusive old man who lips along to Sinatra covers with the idea that he is actually singing. His mother is negligent due to her over-fascination with the Buffalo Bills.

And when I say fascination I mean exactly what I imply. The Brown family album features pictures of O.J. Simpson and other Bills greats. The loving mother only has one picture of Billy in her possession, and it features him and his childhood puppy who was punted to death by the father.

But Buffalo '66, for me, is not about the horrible and complicated life of Billy Brown. I look at the film as a tortured love story between two obviously damaged souls. Gallo's Brown is a violent, aggressive potty-mouth who sees himself as a victim of several unfair circumstances.

Across the table from him is Layla. Played flawlessly by Christina Ricci, this character is submissive, yet feisty. With no actual back story given for her, the audience is left to imagine how she became the person that we see on screen. She is dressed like a teenage Barbie doll on drugs. By appearance alone you guess that her attitude would be as undesirable as Brown's, but she is sweet and tender. She attempts to care for her fake husband. She falls in love with him.

The thing that stands out most about Buffalo '66 is its unwillingness to fit into any conventional cinematic genre. Everything from shooting style to story progression is meticulously different from the mainstream. Our hero is a scumbag, and our leading lady looks like she could be fifteen years old. That makes the erotic pole dancing tap routine one of the more unpleasant scenes in the film. It is almost like Gallo wanted the audience to lust for the jail bait.

Buffalo '66 is a surprisingly original, heartfelt and entertaining movie. It does seem slow at certain points, but the dialogue is crisp and the characters are well designed. Outside of Gallo, the acting is above average with Ricci being the anchor of the main cast. I liked this a lot more than I expected.

Buffalo '66: B

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