Movie review: 'The Brown Bunny'

MoviesEntertainmentFilm FestivalsChloe SevignyVincent GalloCheryl Tiegs

1 star (out of 4)

Vincent Gallo's notorious "The Brown Bunny," the critical black sheep of the 2003 Cannes Film festival, has gotten an undeserved bad rap.

Trust me. This is neither the worst movie ever made nor the worst movie in Cannes history--though, watching it, you can tell why it generated such incredible over-reactions. "Brown Bunny" is the kind of fascinatingly bad film only a really gifted and fearless moviemaker could make: a 92-minute long raggedy-raunchy vision of sex, transit and alienation in which Gallo focuses on himself so obsessively, it's as if he'd become his own stalker.

Playing Bud Clay, a gloomy motorcycle driver travelling cross country from New Hampshire to California, with a pet bunny, for a bizarre encounter with his ex-girlfriend daisy (Chloe Sevigny), Gallo really pulls out all the stops of moviemaker narcissism. The movie, like Robert Rodriguez's pictures, is a one-man show, with Gallo writing, directing, photographing and editing. But unlike Rodriguez, Gallo stars here as well, putting himself into almost every moment of "Brown Bunny."

It's not just his on-screen omnipresence that makes "Bunny" seem self-absorbed or self-obsessed. Writer-director Gallo shows himself doing the kind of things that often make for a "bad boy" movie legend: racing, driving, making love, feeling sorry for himself and desperately trying, like James Dean, to arouse a world that doesn't understand him. Much of the film takes place in dreary-looking towns and cities and vast empty deserts split by solitary highways. And in that emptiness, Gallo contrives scene after scene in which he drives around in lonesome anguish or where women, whether immediately smitten or working prostitutes, throw themselves at him.

The peak or nadir of this lonely sex odyssey is reached during Bud's near-wordless near-seduction at a quick stop of a beautiful stranger, Lilly, played by one-time supermodel Cheryl Tiegs. The whole thing is like a teenager's long erotic daydream of a world populated by almost nobody but yourself and real or potential sex partners (all the women, suggestively are named for flowers), with cameo appearances by a few parents or distant bystanders.

Despite the eroticism--which culminates in that notorious scene of actual oral sex between Gallo and co-star Chloe Sevigny in a motel room, there's a gloomy feel to all this. (In fact, there's a gloomy feeling to the sex as well.) Gallo's Bud never lightens up and, if the movie's last scene explains why he's so sad, it still seems like an affectation of alienation. Gallo's talent and the protracted mood of despair and self-doubt he creates, compel your attention. But the story doesn't justify the compulsion.

At the end, during the motel scene, Gallo and Sevigny show real audacity--not just by staging an actual sex scene (which of course the more radical French and European moviemakers, not to mention the porn industry, do regularly), but by showing sex in such a deglamorized, painful way. There's nothing really exploitive about the scene; in fact, there's almost nothing really sexy or pleasurable. It's desperate, hollow: a lover reaching for emotions that have shriveled up.

There's a thinness to the emotion in the climax scene--the way Gallo conveys sorrow with a scratchy, tearless Stan Laurel-ish whine--that shows what's wrong with the scene and the film. It's too assertive, too self-conscious. Director Gallo was apparently watching himself on monitors throughout the filming, even while acting. Maybe he should have looked away more often.

Not to give a damn what other people or audiences think of you is one of the first steps toward making really interesting radical art. Unfortunately, "Brown Bunny" doesn't make much more than the first few steps. But I wouldn't bet against Gallo doing something remarkable later on--if he learns to start looking at more of the world in his films than himself. Where, for example, are all the shots he could have made of that brown bunny?

"The Brown Bunny"

Directed, written, photographed, edited and produced by Vincent Gallo; camera operators Toshiaki Ozawa, Gallo, John Clemens; music by Ted Curson, Jeff Alexander, Gordon Lightfoot, Jackson C. Frank; Matisse/Accardo Quartet. A Wellspring release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:32. No MPAA rating. Adult. (sexuality and language; no one under 18 admitted).

Bud Clay - Vincent Gallo
Daisy - Chloe Sevigny
Lilly - Cheryl Tiegs
Rose - Elizabeth Blake
Violet - Anna Vareschi
Mrs. Lemon - Mary Morasky

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
MoviesEntertainmentFilm FestivalsChloe SevignyVincent GalloCheryl Tiegs
  • Make a night of it

    Find: • Recommended dining • Recommended bars

Comments
Loading