Buffalo '66 (1998)


High Art for the Masses!
High Art for the Masses!

Genre: Crime Drama Comedy

Starring: Vincent Gallo (Essential Killing • Tetro), Christina Ricci (MonsterAddams Family Values)

Directed By: Vincent Gallo (The Brown BunnyPromises Written in Water)

Overview: A man freed after five years in jail returns home for a visit, but not before kidnapping a tap dancer and forcing her to meet his parents under the pretense of being his wife.

After 5 years in prison, Billy Brown’s (the made-to-look-even-uglier-than-usual Vincent Gallo) first stop is to visit a bathroom - which hilariously spans several scenes. He phones home, telling his mother (the I’ve-never-seen-her-looking-so-common Angelica Huston) that he’s back in town and planning a visit. It’s quickly apparent that his family doesn’t know he’s spent any time in jail, and that he’s built up a rather large house of lies, such as having a good job and a beautiful wife. It’s also woefully clear that Billy’s family dynamic is exceptionally dysfunctional. As Billy’s temper rises when his mother insists that Billy bring his wife to the house, he hangs up and grabs the first woman he sees, a young tap dancer named Layla (the wonderful Christina Ricci). Kidnapped, she is forced to join him at home for dinner with his mother and father (the lightly-lascivious and heavily-tempered Ben Gazzara). Aside from an awkward and darkly comic visit with the family, Billy also has some unfinished business with the past that put him in jail.

Billy Brown: And if I find out you go near my locker, I swear to God I'll give you a karate chop right in the head.

Dad's a crooner... and a grabber.
Dad's a crooner... and a grabber.

More than anything, Buffalo ‘66 is about a messed-up man born of a severely dysfunctional family, and seeing them together is a wonderful way of showing the audience why Billy is the kind of poisonous and hot-tempered man that he is. Though my description and Overview focuses on the family reunion scenes, it’s really just one part of Billy’s story. As a character he’s dirty - both physically and emotionally. He’s not likeable but he’s exceptionally interesting and entertaining. His backstory and his underlying motivations are revealed at a pleasantly slow pace. The script, written by Vincent himself, shines. Gallo’s timing is excellent, and manages to make Billy both egotistical and self-loathing at the same time. His mother, when not distracted by football, is a kind and loving woman – as long as it’s to anyone but her son. His father, though a little easy to enrage, is proud and pleasant – again, as long as Billy’s not part of the conversation. And Layla, for her part, rolls with the punches and finds herself doing a good job of playing the wife.

Billy Brown: I'm asking you to come there and make me look good. Alright? And if you make a fool out of me, I swear to God, I'll kill you right there. Boom! Right in front of Mommy and Daddy. And I'll tell you something else, you make me look bad... I will never ever talk to you again, ever. But if you do a good job, well, then you can be my best friend. My best friend that I've ever had. You hear me?

Her interests: Tap Dancing and Extra Tripe!
Her interests: Tap Dancing and Extra Tripe!

Buffalo ’66 is one of the most unique and rewarding films I’ve ever seen. It plays both sides of the fence, being an intense and dramatic character study with a tight plot, while also having strong elements of comedy and even romance that add to the story rather than make it lose focus. Having a penchant for dark humour, I find the deep childhood traumas coming out of Billy downright hilarious and wonderfully telling. The cinematography is also exceptional and honest. From subjects like dingy, cold Buffalo sidewalks, ugly hotel rooms and strip joints, to neat camera composition and post-production effects that lead to flashbacks, the visuals are something to remember. There’s also quirky indie/artsy moments like a solo tap dance in a bowling alley, or a croon in the bedroom. Add that the ending is one of my favourites in all of cinema and I can’t recommend this enough to people who want to see something different in storytelling while still being rooted in the mainstream. 

Billy Brown: I'm gonna step out of the car for one minute. One minute, I'm gonna step out. Put your hands on the dashboard like that. Hold em like that. Don't let me see you move them one finger, not one finger move, not one twitch of a move or I'll come back and choke you to death. I swear to God. I'll take a bite out of your cheek and I'll shit you out.

 His passions: Alientation and Bowling!
His passions: Alienation and Bowling!

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 9 Script: 9 Plot: 8 Mood: 10

Overall Rating: 88% (Sitty-Sit Down And Watch It Already)

I belong to a friendly little movie club and had been asked to present this month’s film. So far, my criteria for choosing a movie for the club to watch has always been:

1.) One I’ve already seen, loved and would be proud to share.

2.) Obscurity, given people who belong to movie clubs probably have seen a lot.

The first movie I picked was the nail-biting Cold War-gone-hot Fail-Safe (1964). The next was the artsy and violent sleeper, Bronson (2008). When I was asked to pick something that was more ‘summer-fun’ than serious, Buffalo ’66 reminded me that I’ve neglected it for too long and made a point to share this gem with others.

And yes, there was club-consensus that it was a good time had by all. 

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