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How’s this for a plot? Boy gets out of prison, boy meets girl, boy kidnaps girl, girl pretends to be boy’s wife in front of boy’s parents, boy and girl… well, I’m not going to give away the ending. What I will say is that Buffalo ’66 is an amazing, must-see movie from the great mind of Vincent Gallo.

We laugh at Billy (played by Gallo himself) for the same reason we laugh at a Seinfeld episode. As nervy as he is, it’s just a part of his make-up, and he’ll ask the people that he just insulted for a favor. For example, when he first bumps into Layla (Christina Ricci), he scolds her about knocking into people. When he realizes that he needs to use the payphone, he asks her for a quarter. And he’s still not nice about it.

The movie is definitely well cast. Ricci is sweet and innocent as the girl that Billy uses to pretend to be his wife in order to impress Billy’s parents. Gallo sometimes comes off as too harsh and unpleasant, but we see why he acts the way he does when we meet his parents, portrayed by Angelica Houston and Ben Gazzara. In the movie, Houston is a bad mother, but in a very subtle way. For example, she does not remember that her son is seriously allergic to chocolate (she actually thinks it’s his favorite treat). Gazzara is an obviously terrible father. (I don’t want to give away too many details about how cruel he can be. It’s best to watch and find out yourself.) Houston is at her best in this role, and Gazzara is… well, Gazzara. (The part he improvises at the table is genius, and since Ricci didn’t expect it, her face is priceless.) As a matter of fact, there aren’t any bad performances in this movie. Most of the actors are phenomenal, and some are, at worst, above average.

Yes, the movie sounds morose, gloomy, and sad. However, it’s anything but. (Well, kinda.) Gallo offers a great mix of emotions in this film. Buffalo ’66 starts off as a brilliantly dark comedy; it’s sad toward the end, but the movie ends up being more uplifting as the end credits roll. Most of the film is absolutely hilarious, but we still take these events as serious because they’re really happening to a character that we care about: Billy. If he was an unsympathetic, one-sided character, the entire movie would fall apart at the seams. Because of the way Gallo writes and portrays Billy, we support him like a lost soul that one befriends because nobody likes to watch someone go astray.

As a writer, Gallo is a master of twisting the movie around either two-thirds of the way through or right at the end. (To clarify what I mean by “twisting,” Gallo isn’t manipulative like M. Night Shyamalan; Gallo uses the technique to develop his films structurally.) In Gallo’s movies, we see new facets to the story, which change what we’ve seen before the turn of events, which usually makes us want to see the movie a second time. In The Brown Bunny, a startling revelation at the end helps us understand the bedroom scene before it and Gallo’s character’s encounters with other women in the film. Here, in Buffalo ’66, we figure out why he acts the way he does and only begin to understand his modus operandi.

The movie is supposed to be somewhat autobiographical. Gallo even shot the scenes of Billy’s home in the house that he grew up in as a child. Even though this fact makes the movie seem a little more heartbreaking (that somebody actually went through some of these events), in the end, the movie is about a character who struggles. We watch Billy wrestle with his conscience, his past, and his present. And we root for him, we really care about him. Buffalo ’66 is a rare gem that too few people know about or are willing to try, but what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll fall in love with a movie that you’ve never heard of before.


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