Bud Clay (Vincent Gallo) is a motorcycling racer who has just finished a race in New Hampshire. He is planning to compete in another in California, so puts his cycle in the back of his van and drives off, taking the long journey to Los Angeles alone. He stops on the way to fill up his tank, and meets Violet (Anna Vareschi) working behind the counter of the service station; he takes an immediate liking to her, and pleads with her to join him, but she only agrees so far, and soon Bud is alone again. Someone is preying on his mind, an old girlfriend called Daisy (Chloë Sevigny), someone he can't forget...
The Brown Bunny was almost a one man show for Gallo, who not only wrote and directed it, but starred, produced, edited and handled the photography as well. If he could have found a way of playing the other characters, he might have done that too. As it is, the film quickly found notoriety after its screening at the Cannes Film Festival, pronounced the worst film ever to be shown there, and featuring a finale that made it the talk of the town. Why? Because Gallo and co-star Sevigny performed a sex act in the last half hour, a reputedly unsimulated one to boot, and it certainly looked that way when presented precisely as a hardcore porn video would approach the sequence.
But before we reach that, there's a lot of driving to do. Originally the film was around two hours long, but Gallo cut it down to a neat ninety minutes or so after the initial reaction. Too much of it resembles home movies, looking as though he planted a camera just behind the windscreen and let it run: there are plenty of shots of the desert highways, all looking picturesque despite the dirty glass, and sometimes accompanied by mournful music to suit Bud's moping personality. We learn the barest minimum about our protagonist and that fact he likes his bike and he's lost the love of his life is pretty much all we are offered about him until the concluding five minutes where we can understand his isolation at last.
Every so often Bud will meet a woman, named after a flower as Daisy was, and this will send him into more reflection. After he goes to Daisy's parents' house, the one he lived next door to as a child, and gets nowhere after they don't even remember him, he finds his only purpose is the driving but still can't forget her. He meets a silent Cheryl Tiegs (called Lilly here) who he shares a kiss or two with, to all appearances because she was a popular pin-up of the seventies and Gallo, erm, fancied her, shall we say, in his formative years and picks up a prostitute called Rose (Elizabeth Blake) who he drops off by the side of the road after merely buying her lunch. It seems nobody can take the place of his obsession with his beloved and apparently unreachable Daisy.
But she is reachable in one particular method, as we see. It's the encounter between Daisy and Bud, in a hotel room, that gave the film its infamy. It also makes The Brown Bunny appear to be a collossal act of self-gratification on the part of Gallo, where not only does he receive a blowjob from a fashionable actress but gets everyone to see it too - it looks a lot like showing off. Gallo is the sort of actor who you'd like to see turned into a cartoon character, and this effort cements his legend as an artist willing to indulge himself at the expense of credibility. Having said that, he is an artist and undoubtedly sincere about his work, and this film conjures up welcome comparisons with the risk taking features of the seventies, daring to be boring as well as explicit. The twist you can see a mile off, but there is a hypnotic quality here that is broken by the ending, as if woken from a muted, soothing dream by the looming of harsh reality.
Always worth watching, a difficult man, and a man of many talents, American performer Vincent Gallo first gained renown as an actor, moving from small roles in Goodfellas and Arizona Dream to prominent parts in Palookaville, The Funeral, Confessions of a Trickbaby and Trouble Every Day. But it's as a writer/director he has found notoriety, first with the spiky drama Buffalo '66 and then in the moody The Brown Bunny which saw him indulging in an actual sex act with co-star Chloe Sevigny.