Buffalo '66 (1998)
FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW; Forever the Football Fan, Mother Benches Her Son
By JANET MASLIN
Published: April 3, 1998
In Vincent Gallo's ''Buffalo '66,'' Billy Brown (Mr. Gallo) steals a blond kewpie doll named Layla (Christina Ricci) out of her tap dancing class and browbeats her into masquerading as his wife at a dinner with his parents. Billy hectors, cajoles and tries to bribe Layla. (''You can eat all the food you want. Just make me look good.'') He threatens both that he will kill her and that he won't be her best friend. He bullies her outrageously but with such crazy brio and jittery persistence that Layla falls for him. Mr. Gallo's film, a deadpan original mixing pathos with bravado, works on its audience in much the same way.
Having acted for filmmakers as adventurous and diverse as Abel Ferrara, Aki Kaurismaki, Claire Denis and Emir Kusturica (and served as the embodiment of junkie chic in Calvin Klein ads), the gaunt, hollow-eyed Mr. Gallo knows how to cut a striking figure. Skinny and volatile, hunching as if he's cold no matter what the weather, he looks comically desperate from the very start of this story. The film's opening sequence finds him being released from prison (''I was innocent,'' he later explains) and then refusing to go away. Next thing Billy knows, he is wild to use a bathroom and begging a prison guard to let him back in. Clearly Billy has some issues with the concept of home.
It doesn't take long to see why. The visit to Billy's parents, played with sly finesse by Anjelica Huston and Ben Gazzara, proves nightmarish in hilarious ways. Mom is an obsessive Buffalo Bills fan who sits twitching and clicking a television remote control while she feigns interest in her son. She has yet to forgive him for being born on the day of a big game, and in the family photo gallery Jack Kemp and O. J. Simpson are as well represented as Billy. Dad turns out to be the guy from whom Billy inherited his general misanthropy and excitable temper. At least Billy's father likes one guest. ''C'mere, honey,'' he keeps saying to Ms. Ricci, who has stunningly reinvented herself as a baby-blue sexpot for this role, and who plays Layla with tenderness and shrewd comic timing. ''Let me hug my new little daughter!''
One loony visit home is enough to underscore Billy's plight and explain his self-imposed isolation. (''Just look like you like me,'' he orders Layla in a photo booth, where the two pretend to be a happy couple. But the fact that Layla does like him is more than he can stand.) Despite its utterly despairing notion of family, the film is openly autobiographical to the point of using Mr. Gallo's hometown, a house where he lived with his parents and a recording of his father's singing.
Cool, stark compositions and the occasional audacious visual trick give ''Buffalo '66'' a memorable look even when its narrative enters the occasional uneventful stretch. The strong cast includes such indie notables as Rosanna Arquette, Kevin Corrigan and Mickey Rourke. It's a group that could ordinarily be expected to include Steve Buscemi, but he would be redundant here. Mr. Gallo's nutty, tightly wound Billy is the only lovable loser ''Buffalo '66'' needs.
''Buffalo '66'' will be shown tonight at 6 P.M. and tomorrow at 3 P.M. as part of the New Directors/New Films series.
Directed by Vincent Gallo; written by Mr. Gallo and Alison Bagnall; director of photography, Lance Acord; edited by Curtis Clayton; music by Mr. Gallo; production designer, Gideon Ponte; produced by Chris Hanley; released by Lions Gate Films. Shown today at 6 and tomorrow at 3 P.M. at the Roy and Niuta Titus Theater, Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53d Street, Manhattan, as part of the 27th New Directors/New Films series of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. Running time: 110 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Vincent Gallo (Billy Brown), Christina Ricci (Layla), Anjelica Huston (Janet Brown), Ben Gazzara (Jimmy Brown), Kevin Corrigan (Goon), Mickey Rourke (Bookie) and Rosanna Arquette (Wendy).