Vincent Gallo’s “The Brown Bunny,” to the extent that it is known at all, is known for two things. One, its press screening at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival was met with walkouts, boos, catcalls, and general derision, culminating in Roger Ebert calling it “the worst film in the history of the festival.” Two, it has a scene where Chloe Sevigny performs un-simulated fellatio on Vincent Gallo.
Ebert and Gallo got into a feud after that, with the director calling the critic a “fat pig,” and Ebert responding that he might lose weight but that Gallo would always be the director of “The Brown Bunny.” Both of those things have turned out to be true. But Gallo edited the film down from 118 minutes to 92 minutes, and this tighter version — the one released in theaters in 2004 — earned praise from many critics, including Ebert. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 44%, which is still “Rotten” but better than the reception it got at Cannes.
I, uh, was among the other 56%. I hated “The Brown Bunny”. And I saw the “better” version! I can only imagine the levels my fury would have reached if I’d seen the Cannes cut, as this would have meant that not only had I endured 26 additional minutes of tedium, but I’d have had to go to France to do it.
What I said then:
“There is no craft here. Gallo … constructs ‘The Brown Bunny’ so badly that it must have been intentional, though to what end I cannot imagine…. There is always either nothing happening, or else something is happening, but the camera is looking elsewhere. (The one exception is The Scene, when of course the camera makes sure to get right up close to the action.) … It is extraordinarily dull and tedious. I must also mention Gallo’s hilariously bad acting in what is supposed to be Bud’s pivotal, emotional scene. He whimpers and mewls like a drama queen on the first day of acting school…. The longer the film goes on, the more I hate it. If this is a ‘feature film,’ then so are your old home movies, or videotapes from a convenience store’s security camera…. I denounce it for being the worst thing a movie can be: boring. It’s not just one scene; the whole movie blows.” Grade: F [complete review]
When someone hates a movie like this, he usually feels compelled to point out that he has liked other movies that were similarly action-free, lest you think he’s just a philistine who only enjoys movies with explosions and traditional story structures. I am not above such defensiveness. I’ve praised my fair share of “boring” movies! When they’re done right, they can be mesmerizing, drawing you into their quiet worlds and allowing you to see things through their protagonists’ eyes.
The problem with “The Brown Bunny” is that no matter how closely I watch it, no matter how much I allow myself to be transfixed by its spell, I still never feel what the protagonist is feeling. I don’t even know what that feeling is, let alone feel it myself. The film is 80 minutes of a guy driving around silently, pausing occasionally to make out with Cheryl Tiegs at a rest stop. It’s plain enough that he’s “sad,” but why? What’s he sad about? I CANNOT RELATE TO YOU IF I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING!
Neither is there any art involved. Sometimes a film is slow-paced but marked by striking shot compositions or beautiful imagery. Most of “The Brown Bunny” is shot with a handheld camera looking out through a bug-spattered windshield.
I watched the film with an open mind, eager to see whatever it is that its admirers see in it. I gave myself over to it. “Work your magic upon me, movie!” I said. “I am yours for the taking!”
This lasted about 35 minutes. Then I couldn’t stand it anymore. I watched the remaining hour on fast-forward, with the subtitles on so I wouldn’t miss any dialogue, should any dialogue happen to occur, which it mostly didn’t. I resumed regular speed when Gallo met up with Sevigny, as I knew their pre- and post-BJ conversation would be critical. The act itself is better viewed on fast-forward with captions, if only because the whiny things Gallo says during it are virtually incomprehensible without subtitles.
Look, I tried, Vince. I love giving movies another shot in an effort to find value in them that I didn’t see before. I would love to have come away from “The Brown Bunny” feeling whatever it is that you wanted viewers to feel. But unless that feeling was irritation, boredom, annoyance, and contempt, it didn’t work on me. I’m sorry. You are terrible and I hate your stupid movie.
Do I still hate this movie?
Yes. More so, if that’s possible. Grade: G