Friday, April 29, 2011

Buffalo '66 Movie Review

First published on Uwire in Summer 1998.
Republished here unaltered.

Young indie filmmaker Vincent Gallo may join the ranks of Billy Bob Thornton, Woody Allen and Robert Duvall for writing, directing and starring in one of the finest pleasures of the year. (Gallo upped the ante by writing the score for his film.)

Gallo’s film, Buffalo ‘66, begins with Billy (Gallo) being released from prison. After a very amusing struggle to find a place to urinate, he walks into a dance studio where he meets Layla (Christina Ricci). She overhears Billy on the phone to his mother, telling her he is standing in the lobby of an expensive hotel, just one of many lies he tells his parents in order to protect them from the truth. Needing someone to pose as his wife (another lie he told his mother) he kidnaps Layla and asks her to act like she really likes him at his parents’ house.

We meet Billy’s parents (Anjelica Huston and Ben Gazzara) and we almost immediately understand why Billy is so high strung and irritable. His father answers the door with a look of sheer apathy and announces, “Janet, your son is here.” His mother, a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan, is not much better. She barely remembers her son, nor does she pay any attention to his existence during his visit. Neither parent seems to remember anything about his childhood and they have only one picture of young Billy. In that photo he’s holding a dog, apparently the only animal with which he had mutual love. In a flashback we learn that his father killed the dog for relieving itself in the house. Janet has never forgiven her son for being born on the only day the Bills ever won a championship game.

The four sit at the table as the camera shifts between point of view shots of the other three people at the table. Janet pays more attention to the football game on TV than to her family, not listening to Layla’s fabricated story of how she and Billy met. Billy’s father pays little attention until his outbursts of affection for his “daughter-in-law.” Billy’s parents come to find an odd kind of affection for Layla and they glow with excitement when she announces that she is pregnant.

Where Gallo’s script falters is in not presenting any background information whatsoever on the young Layla. He meets her in a dance studio where she is taking tap lessons. She engages in a dream-like tap dance at a bowling alley (obviously a fantasy she has at being a sexy seductress), but aside from these two things, we know nothing. We are given no reason to understand why she does not run from her kidnapper at the numerous chances she is given and why she comes to adore him and eventually love him for the sweet man she sees beneath his rugged exterior. To look at Gallo with his long greasy hair and unshaven face, I would want to get as far away from him as possible.

Gallo presents the city of Buffalo as a stark, gray, pallid locale which serves as Billy’s own personal hell. Billy has only two desires: 1) to find and murder the Bills’ place kicker who lost the game on which Billy had placed a $10,000 bet thus landing him with a five year stint in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and 2) to continue the lies he has presented to his parents even after his own suicide. (He instructs Layla to send a picture of the two of them together to his parents every Christmas.)

Buffalo ‘66 is as bleak a movie as you might ever want to see. Fortunately, the future of indie films looks a lot brighter as a result.

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