Buffalo '66
Director: Vincent Gallo. Cast: Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci, Anjelica Huston, Ben Gazzara, Jan-Michael Vincent, Kevin Corrigan, Rosanna Arquette, Mickey Rourke. Screenplay: Vincent Gallo and Alison Bagnall.

Occasionally inventive but too willing to laze about in its own determined strangeness, Vincent Gallo's Buffalo '66 is a unique and fleetingly fetching poem fatally sealed in and overwhelmed by a soggy, ungainly envelope of self-indulgence. Gallo, who wrote, directed, scored, and stars in the film, has a scraggly and bug-eyed presence that traps our attention in his first scene as his alter ego, Billy Brown, exits a New York state penitentiary in which he has just served a few years. The first couple of scenes are charming in an off-kilter way, as Billy races around a bus terminal, a dive of a restaurant, and eventually a dance studio in search of relieving his swollen bladder. That the sequence runs much longer than is necessary or plausible—and, in fact, Gallo's need to urinate seems to disappear when other demands of plot or comic moment overtake it—offers an early hint that Gallo does not realize that his greatest gift as a writer-director lies in his conception of awkward and succinctly inspired moments.

Instead, Gallo seems to think it is his playing of these scenes that make them memorable, when in fact he is an ungenerous and tiresome performer who does not yet have the familiarity with the camera or the calmness of a professional to let the laughs come naturally. He also embraces improvisation with such open arms that almost every scene continues long after its point has been made. Consequently, most of Buffalo '66's early sequences—the bathroom quest, Billy's kidnapping of a toe-shoed ingenue named Layla (Christina Ricci), and his tense, unwilling visit to the lair of his parents (Anjelica Huston and Ben Gazzara)—are promising comic scenarios that founder underneath the needlessly insistent acting style that Gallo himself exhibits and elicits from his unquestionably talented cast. The prodigal visit home is not the centerpiece of Buffalo '66, which instead follows Billy and Layla on an entire night of misadventure and (could it be?) romantic tension. Nonetheless, the patterns of undisciplined screenwriting, over-keyed performance, and botched pacing that afflict the film's first half-hour remain constant through all of the scenes that follow.

Buffalo '66's quick wearing out of its welcome is a particular shame since the scenes that work are good for some real laughs. Shortly after his arrival back home, Billy watches incredulously as Mom, almost worshipfully distracted by a football game on television, offers him a plateful of chocolate donuts. Billy briefly flashbacks to a severe allergic reaction he displayed toward chocolate at an early age, and the brisk revival of that youthful scene gives clarity and pointedness to his adult disbelief at his mother's dizziness. It is not just the brevity of the allergy flashback that makes the scene work, though its winning shortness compares as more than coincidence to the protracted tedium of the film's longer scenes. The filmmaker in Gallo also seems to recognize, for a moment, the eloquent, angry comedy in a dinner table surrounded by scowling people with only a heap of hunky breakfast sweets to eat; moments like this of concise vulgarity are, unfortunately, unique in a film that would much rather vent its outraged sentiments through extended dialogues or baroquely coarse performances.

Among Gallo's conspirators on this strange, botched effort, Ricci proves the most reliable at approximating the moods and behavior of a recognizable human being. Unfortunately, the surly irreverence her character exhibits upon first meeting Billy is unceremoniously discarded in the script in favor of a more tired and improbable girly-girl crush on her molish abductor. Like the Natalie Portman character in Ted Demme's Beautfiul Girls, Ricci's Layla is a creation that could only arise from a desperate male mind that wishes—just wishes!—that such a star-struck and uncritical admirer could exist for a lowlife protagonist....overlooking, of course, that in both cases the girls in question are about ten years too young for the audience's comfort.

It would not be fair to leave out the virtues of Buffalo '66 entirely, especially since Gallo does achieve what most films big or small seem to lack these days: a specific and sustained point of view. However belabored and often repellent, the perspective of Gallo's yellow-bellied and angry Billy Brown clearly informs all of the film's action, making it clear that the ghoulish contortions of Huston and Gazzara and the untarnished glimmering of the Ricci character are very likely the projections of a biased and unsteady mind. I saw enough in Buffalo '66 I could admire that I would be interested to see Gallo's next effort, hopefully after he has exorcised the autobiographical demons that make this project such a chore to observe. Besides, how admirable is a sustained point of view when, as viewers, we have no sympathy with or interest in the person whose vantage we are meant to assume?

As an early writing instructor once pronounced after hearing a spiteful memory piece by a student named Tennessee Williams, "Well, I suppose we all have to paint our nudes." With Buffalo '66, Gallo has sketched the outline for a subversive and edgy comedy, then scrawled furiously and broadly all over his own worthy ambitions. C–


Awards:
National Board of Review: Best Supporting Actress (Ricci; also cited for The Opposite of Sex and Pecker)

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