Vincent Gallo achieved something with this film that few first time directors have ever done. In fact, the only other guy I can think of to write, produce, direct and star in a first film that’s any good is Orson Welles, with some obscure 1941 flick about a rich dead guy or something. Gallo’s a true artist who’s done everything from modeling for Calvin Klein to doing stand-up. His debut is an autobiographical, deeply honest yet almost surreal tale of desperation and… love? Gallo stars as Billy Brown, born in Buffalo, NY, in ’66 (whereas the title). After a traumatic childhood and adolescence as a misfit, Brown is sent to jail for 5 years. He ain’t a bad guy, it’s just that he grew real frustrated and that he sometimes loses his temper. Like when he’s released, the first thing he does is to try and have dinner with his parents. The problem is that he never told them that he went in prison. Instead, he made them believe that he got married and went to work for the government. Indeed, he’s got to find a wife, and quick, so he crashes into a tap dancing school and kidnaps Layla, played by the incredible Christina Ricci.
Gallo’s script is very, very good. It feels a lot like one my favorites, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, but it ain’t as tragic. Actually, “Buffalo ’66” is an often hilarious movie. Instead of inspiring pity, Gallo finds the humor in his shitty past. Billy is a loser, but deep inside, he’s just a misunderstood sweet guy. I can relate to that, so I was very involved with his story. The film all takes place in the same day, starting when Brown gets out of the joint. Each sequence is highly entertaining. I really like the family dinner, with Ben Gazzara as Billy’s nightclub crooner turned bitter workingman father and Angelica Houston as his Football maniac mother. Both of them treat him like shit and don’t even seem to love him, and Layla tries unsuccessfully to make her faux-hubby look good. Maybe they should split them, but for some reason, she decides to hang out with him, and he decides to let her. They go bowling, spend a moment at Denny’s… In a Hollywood film, they would fall into romantic comedy clichés, but Gallo’s characters still has issues, and he has problems with intimacy.
Gallo is also a surprisingly gifted director. He gets the best out of himself and other cast members. Gallo’s a great actor, a bit like a young De Niro, good looking yet threatening, pathetic yet somehow funny. He sure has style, and he has no trouble carrying the film. He’s helped by the wonderful Christina Ricci, who’s been acting brilliantly ever since her breakthrough role in “The Ice Storm”. And here, she’s different than ever before. With blond hair, a revealing powder blue dress and high heels, she’s more gorgeous than ever. She also delivers a great performance; it’s fun to see her as a nice, unsarcastic girl for once. The film also features Mickey Rourke as a bookie and Rosanna Arquette’s lost dream girl. Other characters include Goon, Billy’s dopey best bud, and Scott Woods, who Billy believes ruined his life. Gallo also has a terrific visual style. What could have been just a straightforward, downplayed indie flick is actually an ambitious, always inventive picture. A bit like Godard, Gallo keeps experiencing with camera angles and editing techniques. There are Super 8 flash-backs, jump cuts, reduced frames, pans on still shots… There’s even a musical number and a tap dancing scene! My favorite has got to be the awesome strip bar scene scored on Yes’ “Heart of the Sunrise”. Vincent Gallo is really a talent to be discovered.