While I don't get too specific, there may nevertheless be spoilers below for those who have yet to see the film ... proceed at your own discretion.
The Brown Bunny is confrontational cinema. Designed to shock, provoke and stir heated discussion, how else could one explain the critical uproar during the 2003 Cannes Film Festival when a longer rough cut of idiosyncratic auteur Vincent Gallo's road trip fantasia screened, prompting no less than Roger Ebert to declare it the worst film ever screened in the history of the festival. Gallo promptly placed a hex upon Ebert's prostate; le scandale erupted over the non-simulated scene of fellatio between Gallo and co-star Chloe Sevigny while the shorter, re-edited film opened in a handful of theaters to dismal business and now Sony has strangely chosen to release the much-hyped film as one of its Superbit titles.
So shoving aside all of the sound and fury, is Gallo's follow-up to 1998's underrated Buffalo '66 an intimate, haunting epic or a wretched, masturbatory exercise in high-minded pretension? To be perfectly honest, it's more or less split down the middle; a glib description of The Brown Bunny would be an interminable road trip punctuated with odd detours, resulting in brief couplings with people who are almost immediately discarded. I'm sure there are those who find the extended scenes of Gallo (who served not only as the film's star, writer and director but also as one of its producers, editors and cinematographers) driving across the country as contemplative or hypnotic but in truth, the film does waste quite a bit of time establishing that Gallo's character, motorcyclist Bud Clay, is alone and tormented by a past of which the audience catches only the barest glimpse.
After completing a race in New Hampshire (filmed almost entirely in real time), Bud packs up his 'cycle and heads off towards Los Angeles and ostensibly, the great love of his life, Daisy (Chloe Sevigny, who registers strongly despite a lack of screen time). Along the way, Clay stops by Daisy's mom's house for a brief chat; picks up Violet (Anna Vareschi), a convenience store clerk; briefly dallies with Lilly (Cheryl Tiegs, in a wordless cameo), a lonely woman at a rest stop and invites along Rose (Elizabeth Blake), a Las Vegas hooker before arriving in Los Angeles, reuniting with Daisy, a woman who's psychologically tormented Bud during his solo sojourn across America.
Ignoring Gallo's sophomoric device of naming every woman in the film after flowers (which signifies their relative purity next to him - Clay, of course, representing the earth), most of the film is brought into sharper focus after the climactic, controversial and unnerving 8-minute sequence in which Bud and Daisy attempt to reconcile a shattered relationship in a forlorn Los Angeles hotel room, culminating in a frank, explicit act of oral sex between the lovers. While it's nothing you wouldn't see in any garden variety porn flick (the press materials breathlessly describe it as "the frankest portrayal of male sexuality ever seen in American cinema"), it's nevertheless shocking simply because of context and all that's come before, as well as being vaguely unsettling; after this narrative twist, Gallo reveals one more twerk of the plot and despite my initial boredom with Gallo's endless static shots of highways and motorcycle racing, I have to admit the denouement does add a moving dimension to all that has come before. Once having dealt this emotional blow to the audience, there's little left to do other than fade out, wind whistling past his window.
Since likely 90 percent of those who pick up this title will be skipping directly to chapter 25 in order to see what all the fuss was about with that blowjob scene, they'll miss what ultimately turns out to be a pretentious if well-intentioned drama about love and loss - Gallo hasn't made a masterpiece, unbalancing the film as he does by choosing to play it close to the vest until the final 15 minutes, but nevertheless it is an alternately raw and tender slice of cinema that will leave you talking whether you like it or not. Don't jump to conclusions or rely on opinions that may be less than informed, give the film a chance and you just might be surprised.
The Brown Bunny is presented here with a razor sharp 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer - filmed largely on Super 16 by Gallo himself, the image seems intentionally grainy (and indeed, towards the conclusion, the scenes set at night display a significant amount of grain) and occasionally speckled with marks; stylistically, the composition seems to deliberately hearken back to the low-budget efforts of the early Seventies. All that said, the image still looks largely free of defects (unless you count the occasionally nauseating glimpses of bugs splattered across Bud's windshield) and worthy of the Superbit imprimatur.
English Dolby Digital 5.0 and DTS 5.0 are available here - the .LFE channel remains inactive throughout. Studded with dialogue (I'd gather maybe 15 minutes out of 93 have anything approaching a conversation) and the occasional Seventies AM pop song, The Brown Bunny is largely an atmospheric, spare aural experience that won't prove to be any challenge for home theaters. One aspect of the soundtrack that I noted (and I'm unclear as to whether it was intentional) is that when characters do speak, it's generally at an almost sub-audible level - the optional English subtitles will come in handy, particularly during the final moments of the movie. I had my volume set above normal for most of the film as Gallo doesn't have anyone talk unless absolutely necessary.
Keeping in line with the Superbit policy, scant supplemental material is included - a pair of trailers are on board, the longer of which spoils much of the film. The shorter teaser trailer evokes the film well and the longer DVD release trailer is best appreciated after viewing Gallo's work. If ever a film cried out for an interview featurette or even a commentary track from the director, The Brown Bunny certainly does - sadly, no such luck.
The Brown Bunny is a film with a reputation preceding it; born out of Gallo's intensely personal style and his unwillingness to compromise his vision, this is an adult work that walks a fine line between pretension and profundity, only achieving a fleeting modicum of brilliance in its closing moments. I highly recommend the film as a whole, but it will take more than one viewing to fully appreciate what Gallo has wrought here; the curious would do well to rent first but those who enjoyed Buffalo '66 could probably take the plunge on a blind buy.