Vincent Gallo has always been a controversial figure. He is remarkably unpopular with some particular critics and film writers and his dramatic criticism of legendary film critic Roger Ebert left Gallo lacking in credibility. His filmography is still quite young and fresh and there is room for growth. Having only directed a small handful of films it is clear to see where he flourishes and where he falls. His film The Brown Bunny was famously panned by many, to which he responded aggressively. It is remarkable, therefore, that amidst the erratic behaviour, the unpredictable lashing outs and the rather unreliable film work he has made, there is one film that captivated and enchanted me with its intelligence and heart. Buffalo ’66 feels like Gallo’s Annie Hall. A subtle and sweet piece of work that flirts with both comedy and surrealism, Buffalo ’66 is an independent gem that many may overlook due to Gallo’s self-inflicted reputation.
As Billy – played by Gallo – is released from prison after half a decade, his first intention is to kidnap and control a dance student whom he wishes to pretend to be his girlfriend. An act that seems sinister is soon revealed to be simply a desperate attempt to impress and deceive his parents. Billy’s loneliness and isolation drives him. His twisted understanding of social etiquette and the way that the world works is saddening, threatening and comical, all at once. His unpredictable mood and his paranoia make him both loveable and infuriating. As his time with his hostage Layla extends we see the fear in Billy and his defensive mechanisms become apparent. This man, so eager to be loved, is tormented by his fear of trusting someone to love him. Vincent Gallo is an under-rated actor. His skills as a performer are vast and he is reminiscent of the remarkable Joaquin Phoenix; an independent, underground version, if you will. Christina Ricci gives a simplistic performance that contrasts Gallo’s. The combined performances are electric, convincing and enchanting; two such unlike-able characters that ignite when together. Anjelica Huston and Ben Gazzara give two hilarious performances as Billy’s parents who are pathetic in so many ways and isolated in a completely different way to their son. In these family scenes there are some nods to Ozu’s Tokyo Story that are undeniably charming.
Several Lynch-ian elements sneak into Buffalo ’66 and add a real charm to the structure of the film. An uncomplicated narrative is enhanced by several unexpected scenes and section. In one particular scene Ricci’s character performs a dance routine in the middle of a bowling alley. This is aesthetically pleasing and also highlights Gallo’s passion for music as well as film. Gallo clearly understands the way that a film should look to an audience. The conclusion of the film is surprisingly warm and uplifting. As the film draws to a close there is a sense of hope and a lingering feeling that Billy may just be learning to trust. With its underlying empathy for the characters and the quirky attributes that hold the audience’s attention, Buffalo ’66 is a fun and intriguing gem that highlights the importance of being vulnerable at certain points in life.
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