When Gross Stuff Happens to Good People

Reviews of the latest films.
July 19 1998 3:30 AM

When Gross Stuff Happens to Good People

The bottom of the barrel genius of the Farrelly brothers.

There's Something About Mary
Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly
20th Century Fox


Buffalo 66
Directed by Vincent Gallo
Lions Gate Films

(Continued from Page 1)

The reptilian Gallo--with his sharp nose, devil's eyes, and beard like a corrosive fungus--has a jabbing delivery that suggests what Michael Douglas would sound like doing a Scorsese picture; at other times, his voice breaks, and he screams with the strangled hysteria of Bobcat Goldthwait. It's hard to tell why he's always seething--until we meet his parents, who are true wack jobs and barely register his presence. The scenes in their house have a crawling, improvised feel, as if he's waked to find himself in a zombie sitcom--but his anger burns off the cooling fog of irony. Everything is slightly overlit, giving surfaces a white-hot sheen and the whole movie the aura of a Super 8 East Village short of the '70s or '80s.

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Gallo's combination of crudeness and sophistication has a preternatural power. The 180 degree reverse angles, the occasionally deliberate misframing, the flashbacks that rise out of the center of the screen like a white sheet on which primal-traumatic home movies unspool: All drive home the protagonist's feverish alienation. Surreal interruptions, in which characters step into a white spotlight and croon a song or do a little tap dance, play like pop-religious visions of a happier, more innocent world. Dennis Potter, David Lynch, and others have come this way before, but Gallo's universe still feels organic.

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The central relationship might have come off as oppressively sentimental were it not for Ricci. She has one of the most fascinating child-woman faces in movies. Her dark eyes have been set off by thick lashes and blue eye shadow, and her skin is so white she might be a doll carved out of ivory. She simultaneously deflates and elevates her overbearing director/co-star. When she trains those eyes on him, it's with a mixture of sympathy, scorn, and wonder--which cancel one another out and leave behind a sort of nonjudgmental, Christian forgiveness. If this lunatic blowhard can find someone to look at him like that, there's hope for us all.

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