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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » The Brown Bunny
The Brown Bunny
Other // Unrated // August 27, 2004
Review by Kim Morgan | posted September 3, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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Vincent Gallo knows his face is interesting. Though accused of out and out narcissism, Gallo understands his face beyond just an offbeat, good-looking man staring at girls with a blue-eyed intensity that frightens other men. Oftentimes resembling the mysterious gaze captured in 1930's pictures of dustbowl farmers and criminals, Gallo has an odd combination of smooth modernity and timeless turmoil that the camera and especially HIS camera loves. And no matter how much press the man gets, no matter how much he provokes rage with his political opinions and open (and frankly refreshing) attacks on actors, directors and others in the business, the guy remains enigmatic. Call him a remarkable showman, call him an aggressive provocateur, but really, what is Gallo trying to say?

The Brown Bunny, the infamous film that Roger Ebert declared "the worst in the history of Cannes" is, to audience and critics, saying a lot or saying very little. Revved up with the kind of negative publicity that's made his road picture into something of an epic, it should be noted that the man who made the above statement, has rescinded his opinion. After a near 30 minutes excised from the picture, Ebert, as well as other critics, appear to be either saving their ass or eating crow or desperately trying to remain "cool" in their newfound appreciation of the picture. Even after Gallo responded to Ebert's rather bold statement by calling the critic a "fat pig with the physique of a slave trader" (which may be a funnier barb than Ebert's ever written) and cursed the man with cancer, the two have now become civil. Gallo got the big ol' thumb up.

Watching the film in its shorter version, I wonder how certain critics could have changed their opinions so radically. Unless I'm missing something, the film still looks the same, stars the same actor and contains the same infamous fellatio scene. Certainly, you could change your opinion with 30 minutes gone, but would you have failed to notice the cinematography, acting and feelings you now embrace? Would you think, though I did say, a la Ebert "although I am fat, one day I will be thin, but Mr. Gallo will still have been the director of The Brown Bunny," those 30 minutes obscured every other good thing about the picture? Again, I smell rats and fear and frankly, the second guessing that comes when someone has to follow a leader, the leader who turns out, in this case, to be Gallo himself.

A meditation on grief, loneliness, women and the obsession of a man swirling in a quagmire of self doubt and anger, The Brown Bunny is a beautiful portrait of All American misery. Gallo plays Bud Clay, a man who in mourning the end of a relationship to his true love Daisy (Chloë Sevigny), takes a cross country trip through America that appears to be a road to nowhere, but by film end, has a destination and point. But if that destination solves anything plaguing this character is the lingering question. After losing a motorcycle race and packing up the bike in his new black van (how Gallo can make this new van appear so gorgeous on film is a testament to his taste and aesthetic), Bud takes to the road. He drives and drives but meets people along the way, chiefly, girls, who in transient moments serve as either lovelorn desperates or masturbatory fantasy figures. All are named for flowers and all are brief encounters Bud engages in as only an angry sensitive can. He dazzles then ditches. None of these women are going to replace his beloved Daisy, a woman he thinks of while checking out bunnies at a pet store or dropping by her senile parent's house wondering if they've heard from her. They haven't. And they don't remember him, even though he grew up next door.

Though Gallo kisses one of these lonesome highway women (top '70s model Cheryl Tiegs looking weather-beaten and world weary), the trip has seemed sexually desultory until the BIG scene--when Bud hits Los Angeles. He sees Daisy and, in the film's now infamous scene, she performs oral sex— on camera, no prosthetic no mouth double. What marks this moment as more interesting than it seems, is that it's highly uncomfortable not for the actual blowjob, but for what precedes and concludes the act. The audience I sat with seemed far more uncomfortable by the two actors kissing ("I love to kiss your mouth") and Gallo crying, which is really the film's naked moment. Gallo—all squeaky voiced and "why?" destroys the idea of watching a robotic scene of pornography, filling the audience with nervousness and titters. A tender, but fucked-up, sadistic/masochistic moment is too much for those wishing to examine Gallo's rod.

And there is so much more to The Brown Bunny than said rod. The picture's look is much like Gallo, old world and modern where stretches of highway are frequently shot through a bug-splattered windshield. Though Gallo protests the tag of film artist, The Brown Bunny is so artfully rendered (just as Buffalo 66 was), there are moments of sublime beauty. With rule breaking shots of often, uncomfortable composition, the film is either something you find lovely or not. And if you don't, you're bound to be bored to tears. From close-ups of hair intertwining in a kiss to claustrophobic inside passages in the van to an oddly composed and, funny, sitting with Daisy's parents to a gorgeous moment in the blinding white salt flats, Gallo's style is both assured and haphazard. Though Gallo hogs the frame (it is about his character after all)he is so close-up that often, he's obscured. But importantly, his face works--he looks like the guy who could steal your girlfriend out of a party and fuck her in the bathroom (which, is why so many men hate him I am assuming), but it's also slightly insane. Current mainstream Hollywood hasn't quite taken to this notion but, mildly or exceptionally deranged people look good in cinema--the 1970's understood this.

Gallo claims to not be inspired by '70s cinema with The Brown Bunny but you can't help but notice stylistic influences from Monte Hellman's masterpiece (and the greatest road movie ever. Period.) Two Lane Blacktop to Antonioni to the doleful, man desperation of a film like Bill Norton's Cisco Pike. Gallo has made a film to puncture certain American notions of male masculinity while simultaneously, embracing them. And when you hear Gordon Lightfoot's plaintive, pretty and decidedly '70s song "Beautiful" accompany a stretch of highway (one of the film's peak scenes), you'll think of your '70s father, smiting from a divorce. Though the picture has a student film quality to it, complete with the story of what's usually a young man's journey (one scene shows a flashback of a keg party which makes me question these character's ages), Gallo is a 42-year old man (though he looks younger). He's not James Taylor in Two Lane Blacktop but rather, closer in age to Blacktop's middle-aged drifter Warren Oates. But this isn't dismissing his journey—grief comes at any age and often, comes worse when you're not so young anymore. Gallo's Bud, maybe, doesn't want to grow up.Whatever Bud is doing--closing a chapter or starting a whole, new fucked-up one, we're not certain. We're not even certain how much of this actually happened. It's almost certain that the character Bud does not want us to see his fragile state but Gallo does. And not just in the picture's "hardcore" moment. Echoing more Gordon Lightfoot (from the song "Sundown"), Gallo in his revelatory emotional nakedness is showing what happens, as the song goes, "in a room where you do what you don't confess." Gallo confesses and then leaves us wondering just exactly how deep that confession was. Love it or hate it, it's certainly beautiful to look at.

Read More Kim Morgan (and Roger Ebert's response to this review) at her blog Sunset Gun

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