Culture Magazine

Movie Review – Buffalo 66 (1998)

By Manofyesterday

Director: Vincent Gallo

Stars: Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci, Ben Gazzara, Anjelica Houston, Mickey Rourke, Rosanna Arquette, Jan-Michael Vincent

After five years in prison (but he’s innocent), Billy (Gallo) is released back into the world. He’s told his parents that he works for the government but now he’s out he has to see them, however, among the other lies he has also told them that he has a wife. He subsequently kidnaps the unfortunate Layla (Ricci) and the two of them have to pretend to be married as they meet his parents. There’s also more to Buffalo 66 as we learn about some of the circumstances that led Billy to jail and what his plans for the immediate future are.

It’s a very interesting black comedy. Billy is one of the most pathetic heroes in cinema histories. He’s so pathetic in fact that it’s hard not to root for him. We’re introduced as he’s dealing with a problem that I’m sure many of us have suffered from – trying to find a toilet. He goes to places but they’re closed, then tries outside but someone walks by, finally he finds someone is already in there and puts him off. It only gets worse when we meet his parents, and this segment of the film is darkly hilarious. His mother (Houston) is obsessed with the local football team, and the humor comes from subtle areas. Like how all through the meal she’s glued to the screen of the game, even paying more attention to it than the story Layla is telling of how she and Billy met. Yet towards the end she asks for the remote and fast forwards through the adverts, and you realize that all this time it’s a game she’s seen hundreds of times. His father (Gazzara) is a failed singer with anger issues, and is also very creepy towards Layla. We get some flashbacks of what Billys childhood is like.

After this we get some more background on Billy’s life and his main struggles. The two main characters are obviously both very damaged and fragile and their interactions are tender, although there’s a sense that these two people would actually be unhealthy in relationships so perhaps it’s best that they found each other.

The humor is mostly subtle but it’s a constant presence through the film, and there were some nice stylish shots as well. I liked the way the flashbacks were presented and there’s a nice freeze-frame effect towards the end. However, Buffalo 66 does have a few failings that prevent me from recommending it wholeheartedly.

The ending is very, very abrupt. It’s a shock when it ends and I was left with a feeling of ‘that’s it’. And although I enjoyed the film this is the feeling it’s leaving me with, and that’s not the kind of feeling I want to be left with. The other problem I have, and this is a pretty major one, is that Layla is never developed as a character herself. We’re never given any insight into her motivations so she never feels like a character in her own right, she’s just in counterpoint to Billy. Also, I think the parents were too harsh towards Billy. To a certain point it was believable but then it became ridiculous and it felt as though the film-makers were laying it on pretty thick, and it took away from the subtle nuances of the scene.

But I despite those I did like it and I think it has something to offer, I just wouldn’t rush out to see it.

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