Willfully monotonous, tonally vacuous, and cinematically bankrupt, this much-maligned feature from the director of Buffalo 66
is pure, unleavened self-indulgence, a road movie so stultifyingly banal that it achieves a nearly documentary level of tedium, sustaining the film up to its final moments, when suddenly, everything makes sense and you’re left with the withering impression that you’ve been party to madness. For all his ranting, however, Gallo’s no lunatic: The director’s vitriolic broadside blasted at Roger Ebert after the critic maligned his film at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival (calling it "The worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival" and adding that the film of his colonoscopy was more entertaining) seems, in retrospect, a daring marketing ploy. If you missed the brouhaha, Gallo very publicly called down a curse on Ebert’s prostate, saying "I hope it blows up to the size of a cantaloupe" before calling the Chicago Sun-Times
writer "a fat pig." The two have since made up, and Ebert also very publicly and positively changed his review after Gallo re-edited the film, but the current version is still likely to leave the majority of audience members scratching their heads, if not banging them against a wall. Like Monte Hellman’s sublime Two-Lane Blacktop
and Jack Cardiff’s 1968 Alain Delon/Marianne Faithful vehicle Girl on a Motorcycle
, The Brown Bunny
is, on the face of it, an existential exercise in cross-country motion, a travelogue in which the exteriors are never as important as the interior life of the main character, who in this case is Gallo’s Bud Clay. Clay is a motorcycle racer who, after losing a race in New Jersey, heads west to Los Angeles, where he hooks up with an old flame named Daisy (Sevigny), who promptly smokes some crack and gives him head onscreen. That’s about it, really, except for the several women Clay encounters on his journey, and with whom he repeatedly attempts to form some sort of relationship. They’re all named after flowers, too, a conceit that, again, makes sense in retrospect, as does the film’s pointedly dull take on the traditional road movie. Where Hope and Crosby had fun and laughs on the road, Gallo finds only despair and a soul-sapping loneliness. His is the world of boarded-up shopping malls, bleary grey dawns, and smeary windshields – for him, hope is as elusive as Daisy, and as empty as the end of the line. Gallo often frames himself half out of the picture. You get some of his prominent nose and aquiline features, but not all, and the film has a muddy, overcast look, with heavy grain and strange angles that lend the whole proceeding a surreal aura. It all plays like a low-level fever dream, minus the excitement, but for all its anti-action, The Brown Bunny
gets its teeth in you and shakes. Once it’s over, you find yourself replaying it on an endless loop in your head.