Do we invest wisely in the things that we worship? The teams we root for? Is the return worth the pain and sacrifice? What should we do when a beloved singer smacks his woman around in public? What about when you realize your favorite author is just the grumpy old drunk at the end of the bar? What about the loudmouth place kicker that missed the field goal in the big game, sending an entire city’s fortunes down a polluted river? And yet, he still gets to grow fat on steak and good booze after he retires. He merrily drinks with exotic dancers in the strip club he opened in the city he let down.
We are all just here to be jerked off on by the big shots of the universe. The champions of the cosmos use us as their ashtray. It’s tough to win at life if you are allergic to chocolate, but your mother—preoccupied by watching her favorite football team—feeds you donuts made out of your personal kryptonite. Your puppy poops in the house one too many times, maybe your bastard father snaps its neck in front of you?
It’s bleak in Buffalo much of the year—galaxies away from the glitz and glamour of New York City. Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo ’66 tells the story of a sour young man named Billy Brown. His soul seems a perfect fit for the frost on the ground and exhaust from the buses and dented cars that drive among the rundown buildings in the world director Gallo and cinematographer Lance Acord have created in this effective independent film.
The mercurial Gallo plays Billy and we first see him getting released from jail. With his red boots, tight fitting gray pants and jacket, Billy seems dressed for a downtown club in May—not a penitentiary yard in winter. He naps on a park bench, curling into a ball to protect himself from the scorn of Old Man Winter. The cold seeps into his body and he has to take a piss.
He goes back to the prison—his home for the previous several years—and asks to use the can. The guard tells him to go take a hike, but in an official way. Municipalities always have the rules and fancy language to tell us to fuck off. He gets on the bus to town, but the shitter is out of service at the bus station. Bus station bathrooms are sewers with hand driers, so he would be better off with a parking lot. Maybe a luncheonette without an obnoxious blob telling him he can’t use the restroom as he counts money and receipts with greasy hands?
Clutching his junk and wincing like a five year old, Billy ducks into a tap dancing school to find a bathroom. In the can, he gets into a fight with a portly dance student at the urinal adjacent to his. The student took a peek at Billy’s package and Billy goes into a rage, using a not acceptable word for homosexual. It begins with “f” and isn’t friend. You should only call your male friends that word beginning with “f” by the way. Playground battle rules have no age limits.
Billy probably doesn’t have many friends. Lies about his higher level of existence appear to be his only solace. We don’t see him drink or do drugs. Perhaps lubricating the petulant demon within him would have warmed Billy up to society. As a straight arrow, he’s a whirling dervish of fits and insults who is never at fault for any of his problems.
Outside the bathroom, he runs into Layla, played like a weirdly beautiful slab of meat by the talented Christina Ricci. Billy quickly berates her as she stands there in her tap dancing clothes—stunned that this guy is such an ignoble jerk. When he asks her to borrow a quarter—not nicely—she relents and gives it to him. Layla is either a kind soul or a kindred spirit in Billy’s antisocial behavior.
Billy calls his mother and lies to her. He tells her that he and his wife Wendy are staying at the local expensive hotel and that he wants to visit. Billy gets increasingly agitated during the call, talking to his mother like she is a child. We notice that Billy talks to most people in the movie in this way. He’s a card carrying loser at life, but if he can make other people feel small he can stomach his reflection in the mirror. He agrees to visit his parents.
Realizing he needs to produce a wife pretty quickly, Billy grabs Layla and drags her into her car. Scolding her for her dirty automobile, Billy forces Layla to pretend to be his wife or he will do rotten things to her. These scenes are funny as we never really believe Billy has it in him to hurt her. An asshole he may be, but he doesn’t have the heart of a hardened criminal.
He has skeletons in his closet, not dead bodies.
They pull up to Billy’s parent’s house–adorned with Buffalo Bills signs and banners. Like a hungover whore at Sunday Mass, Billy starts to look ill. We can hear his mother cheering like a retarded baboon from inside the house. Billy finally summons up the courage to ring the doorbell, giving Layla last minute instructions on how to behave in front of his parents. Billy–in his thirties probably–is anxious like a teenager bringing home his first girlfriend.
The father–played by Ben Gazzara–does little more than grunt at Billy and awkwardly manhandles his new “daughter”. Anjelica Huston is the mother that can probably rattle off Buffalo Bills player statistics much easier than she could tell you her son’s birthday. Layla is effective in her role as Billy’s wife and they escape without anyone being physically injured.
Billy’s ultimate goal in his charade is to exact revenge on the kicker for the Bills who missed the field goal in the Super Bowl. It is because of that missed field goal that Billy landed in jail. Billy believes he was born under the bad sign of the Buffalo Bills. It seems logical. Why blame ourselves for our own actions when we can blame an outside entity or event that already has built in vitriol leveled at it?
The scene in which Billy plans to exact his revenge on the kicker at the strip club is expertly shot. It has the quality of a nightmare as Billy stalks the club for his intended victim. Yes’s Heart of the Sunrise blares on the soundtrack and Chris Squire’s thundering bass adds urgency to Billy’s quest and the song gives it that surreal touch that makes the scene something special.
Ricci and Gallo play well off each other. Layla is cherubic and a calm contrast to Billy’s pent up aggression and angst. They are two talented actors who I would like to see more of. This film is what independent cinema is all about. I can picture watching this during the glory days of IFC, before they became a commercial filled joke of everything they fought against.
The supporting cast is excellent, as well. Old pros Gazzara and Huston sink their teeth into the minor, but important roles of Billy’s dysfunctional parents. It’s tough to blame our parents for everything, but they are sometimes the reasons for therapy or self-medication. Independent regular Kevin Corrigan plays Goon, Billy’s mentally slow and loyal friend who is on the receiving end of his attacks. Rosanna Arquette is funny as the lip-smacking floozy who was Billy’s amorous obsession growing up. Lastly, post Airwolf Jan Michael Vincent has a bit part as the proprietor of the bowling alley where Billy’s only glory occurred. He is good in the role and still had a resemblance of his old self. Sad stuff there.
Gallo is a character in real life for sure. I would love to be stuck on the tarmac with him and listen to his stories and brutal rants, but I have a feeling he would hate me after ten minutes or so. However, his Buffalo ’66 is definitely worth your two hour investment.