Big Bad Love

The protagonist in “Big Bad Love” is clearly one of those characters we’re supposed to love in spite of his faults, and that love propels our enjoyment of the film. What’s odd is that his faults are so numerous that it’s hard to even like him, let alone adore him. So it goes without saying that the film isn’t exactly a picnic to watch, either.

It’s a colorful film, though, figuratively speaking, and director/star Arliss Howard has a keen eye for visuals that are both playful and deadpan. “Ally McBeal”-style imaginings are frequent, to where the film resembles the protagonist’s ongoing drunken stupor.

Which is appropriate, because drinking is his major activity. His name is Barlow, and he lives in Mississippi, and he’s a writer of fiction. Unfortunately, so far, no one is a buyer of fiction, or at least not of his. He papers his bathroom walls with rejection letters and voices angry, profane responses that he never sends.

He was married once, though you can see why he’s not anymore. The marriage was to Marilyn, played with a soulful grace by Debra Winger, and two children were the product of it. When he can muster up a little sobriety, he enjoys being a two-weekends-a-month father to them.

So Barlow lives alone and drinks and smokes and occasionally does some housepainting for a little cash with his buddy Monroe (Paul Le Mat). He worries his mother (Angie Dickinson) and frustrates his ex-wife. His demeanor is taciturn and thoughtful, though his actions are often quite thoughtless.

The trouble is that nothing happens for a good hour. Then, there’s a tragedy or two and Barlow has to deal with reality, which is entirely against his philosophy. But before that, we see nothing more than scenes from Barlow’s odd little life, punctuated with narrated clips of his flowery, image-heavy prose, often accompanied by the appropriate images. (I recall clowns working on a railroad car, I believe.)

But it all comes back to Barlow, who, as played by a rather vacant Arliss Howard, is not a compelling enough person to override his worthlessness. Spending so much plot-free time with him is irritating, and all the interesting things to watch and look at are for naught.

C- (1 hr., 51 min.; R, frequent harsh profanity, some sexuality, a lot of crude dialogue.)