Buffalo ’66 (Vincent Gallo) 1998

Buffalo ’66 follows Billy (Gallo) as he is released from prison.  During his stay, he lied to his parents he was going away for a great job and had married a beautiful woman.  Upon his release and wanting to impress his parents, he kidnaps Layla (Christina Ricci) and has her play the part of his wife.  Along the way, Layla falls for Billy.

I think dark comedies are some of the hardest to accomplish in the whole genre of ‘comedy‘.  When a director attempts one I feel he is walking a very narrow tightrope.  Go even a little too far and you turn off your audience by being too dark and if you don’t go far enough then your comedy has no teeth.  And you need to have some deft comic writing for the audience to forgive a main character who is a violent kidnapper and to think Layla falling for her is anything but Stockholm syndrome.

I must be in the minority (most of the IMDb reviews are glowing) as I don’t think Gallo pulls that off at all.  I seriously wonder if I saw the same movie as everyone else becuase all the other reviews love this movie and praise the romance.  They will proclaim it as one of the few honest stories about romance.  They will say Gallo’s character is not perfect (unlike all those other fakey Hollywood romances) and Layla falls for an imperfect person which makes it all the more romantic.  I am fine with a story about imperfect people falling in love and will happily give those people recommendations for movies better than this.  My problem is we are given no reason at all for why Layla would find this person likable in the slightest.  When we meet him he is rude, angry, physically violent, a kidnapper, and socially awkward to everyone he comes across.  And the way he is presented, I don’t even see Layla being physically attracted to someone like Billy.  Layla will profess Billy is the nicest person she ever met but all we ever see is him being an asshole and talking down to her.

There are movies of emotionally cold people being romanced, and there are movies about jerks being turned around.  It helps to have someone who can play a funny dick like Bill Murray or James Spader (Secretary sprang to mind) and it helps to have any kind of redeeming quality for our protagonist.  But for 105 minutes he is an unfunny, unrelenting asshole and in the last five minutes turns on a dime to decide he won’t be an asshole anymore.  What the hell does Layla see in this person?

I don’t even have  a problem with the concept of the movie.  I think just about anything can be done comedically if done right.  The Ref is about a guy who kidnaps a dysfunctional family for Christmas and is starring another funny dick Denis Leary.  That’s a funny movie.  Maybe because I have Woody Allen on the brain from my retrospective that I thought this material would be fine in Allen’s early days.  I could totally see a Bananas type movie where Allen is so beat down by his domineering mother that the only way to impress her is to do this plan.  Woody Allen is unthreatening and clever though; Vincent Gallo looks and acts like a rapist.

It also doesn’t help that Layla is an underwritten and IMO an unbelievable character.  She has no backstory or character development because apparently she doesn’t matter.  And, as mentioned before, her only response to any kind of verbal abuse is something to the effect of “He is the nicest guy I ever met.“, or “He is so sweet and handsome“, or “I love him.“.  It is a smidge misogynistic we don’t have to know anything about her but she must be giving unconditional love at all times to her abusive kidnapper.

Most of this hinges on finding the writing or Vincent Gallo to be funny and I don’t think either pull the job off.  Gallo does a fine job directing as he keeps the visuals interesting but he just doesn’t not click with me as a comedic actor.  As I said before, you can have lovable jerks and losers, but with Gallo you have a pathetic jerk.  I know I haven’t mentioned everything in this movie like Christina Ricci, Anjelica Huston, Ben Gazzara, or the subplot of Billy trying to murder a former Buffalo Bills kicker.  However, Gallo is the person that is supposed to carry the movie comedically, and when he fails, the whole movie ultimately fails.

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