Buffalo 66 is a 1998 romantic drama written, directed by and starring Vincent Gallo. The film is about a pathetic and embittered character by the name of Billy Brown who, having been forced to take the rap for a crime he did not commit, is eventually released from prison and immediately kidnaps Layla (played by Christina Ricci), an aspiring actress who he takes to his parent’s house in an attempt to impress them.
Where to start? Well, firstly Vincent Gallo. He is my spirit animal. He says whatever he thinks, makes no apologies and is totally dedicated to his work. I am thankful to live on the same planet as this man. God level. Apparently, he is a nightmare on set, falling out with everyone involved and even threatening to stab the producer if he couldn’t secure more of the Kodak reversal stock film that gives the film its grainy, high-contrast look.
The character of Billy Brown sounds a lot like Gallo himself, growing up in Buffalo to disappointed Italian parents and seeming to go around with a chip on his shoulder about how the whole world let him down.
Then there’s Christina Ricci who got the role after Gallo sacked Kirsten Dunst for having her agent call him. Ricci looks angelic and whilst she might not be the best actor in the world she is so perfectly cast as the girl kidnapped by the delusional Billy Brown and forced to put on an act for his parents.
Fun Fact: The scene at the Brown house sees the one and only time that Anjelica Huston and Christina Ricci would be reunited on screen since playing mother Morticia and her daughter Wednesday in the Addams Family movies.
The film has very sparse direction with an indie vibe bordering on mumblecore but never that dreadful Lars Von Trier type of nonsense where Charlotte Gainsbourg acts all weird and people say nothing. The film has a lot of simplicity but also sequences that delve into a moment, a memory or a feeling. A few that stand out include Leyla’s entrancing dance sequence to King Crimson’s “Moonchild” at the bowling alley which takes you into her mindset of escapist, child-like imagination. Also is Billy’s return to the bowling lanes as the background noise of the Bowlarama is amped right up and the slow motion camera zooms right in on the detailed ritual of the ball being polished and wrist straps being tightened giving a feel of intense hyper-reality to provide a point in the movie where Billy finds his focus centre. The dinner table flashbacks, the Dad’s song – lots of points that sidestep the film world but only in such a way as to pull the viewer further in.
It’s not a perfect film. There’s a lot of Gallo running off to use a phone, often back and forth across the street in those trademark red shoes. Despite doubling its budget it bombed in Hollywood terms and it got mixed reviews from the critics, which the director came back at with his usual candour.
Buffalo 66 is one of those “cult following” movies that people still rave about long after it failed to set the world on fire. The reason why it is beloved by so many is down to a few basic factors. This film has so much heart. Gallo really did put a bit of himself into it and that intertwines with your perception of the character of Billy who, despite his flaws, you come to empathise with. Feeling that empathy then helps you to better share in and understand the motivations of Layla. But also is the film’s beautiful simplicity. Buffalo 66 is about a boy who meets a girl who ends up saving him from himself and they end up happy ever after. Add to that Gallo’s incredible lonely score and you’ve got a very special film.
What makes it my personal favourite film is that, perhaps of all characters I’ve ever seen on screen, I identify with Billy the most. Being from Watford I understand what it is to be isolated in a bleak world or nothingness where little if any support is ever offered, no breaks to be caught, and it seems no help is coming. And yet we hold onto and treasure the idea of being rescued nonetheless.
Of all the genres, I have a real penchant for the character study and Buffalo 66 gives you this pathetic yet intense character of Billy Brown, with a side order of romance. It’s a toss-up between this and Taxi Driver for the top spot but nah, I got to give it to Buffalo 66, that’s my movie.