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Buffalo ’66 (1998)

Somebody should make a list, or write a paper, or both, about films in which a man kidnaps a woman who decides she likes being kidnapped and falls in love with her captor, and they live happily ever after.  “Buffalo ’66” and the 2001 film “Bandits” would top the list. I know that Stockholm Syndrome is a real thing, but here it’s been filtered through male misogynistic fantasy until it becomes something entirely different from reality.  That makes this our second film from the late ’90s centered on a fantasy woman.  But that’s where the similarities between “Buffalo ’66” and “There’s Something About Mary” come to an abrupt end.

This is a terribly ugly film, both in tone and visually. It’s ugly on purpose, I think. Maybe it’s part of the comedy. Vincent Gallo is either a very messed up individual, or he consistently casts himself as such, both in real life and in his movies.  His feud with Roger Ebert is famous/notorious, but I’m still not sure the whole thing wasn’t staged, Andy Kaufman style.

In “Buffalo ’66,” he is fresh out of prison, and determined to visit home and impress his parents, who think he’s been off on a CIA assignment or something.  Truth is his parents don’t think about him at all, and don’t believe his lies for a second.  They are obsessed with the Buffalo Bills to the point of near-insanity.  But Gallo’s so determined to gain one iota of affirmation from them that it doesn’t matter at all.  So he kidnaps Christina Ricci from a dance studio, and forces her to pretend to be his wife in front of his parents.  After that’s he’s going to murder the man he holds responsible for his time in prison – the retired kicker for the Bills, who now owns a strip club

Gallo’s character is an odd but compelling combination of  aggression and innocence, narcissism and vulnerability. He’s the kind of guy who is always saying “Did you hear what I just said? Just do what I asked you to do, alright? Please. There, I said please. OK? You happy? Now just do the f— what I told you to do.”  The film works because even though he is basically a disgusting and despicable human being, Gallo shows us just enough vulnerability and confusion in him that we come to care about him, and feel sorry for him, just a bit.

What doesn’t work is Ricci’s character.  She’s completely docile and willing, never objects to the increasingly bizarre things he asks her to do, and stays with him when he is no longer holding her captive, or even wanting her around.  We come to see something likable in Gallo because she sees it.  But it’s utterly ridiculous to think a woman in her situation would ever be able to see what she sees.

Here’s one way to watch it: she’s not real. She’s an angel, like Clarence in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” sent to keep him from doing something really evil. He’s been stupid before, but not evil. He’s never been loved, not by his parents, not by girls in school, not by anybody. She loves him immediately, unconditionally, completely.  I can almost watch it this way, but the ending ruins it.  I want her gone in the end, like Clarence is,  just as I want Mary to disappear into thin air at the end of “There’s Something About Mary.”  These women are fantasies, and fantasies don’t last.  Real women don’t perform oral sex while watching Sportscenter, and they don’t like being kidnapped.

Just a quick side note: watching these two films has me jonesing for “High Fidelity,” a great comedy about a man who decides to stop chasing fantasy women and settle into the hard working of being in a relationship with a real woman.  I half recommend both “Buffalo ’66” and “There’s Something About Mary;” I heartily recommend “High Fidelity.” 


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