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One has to admire an actor like Arliss Howard for his courage in bringing
this film to the screen. It is a painful story to watch, but it has its own
rewards. The movie played locally only for a very short time, and sadly, it
disappeared until it was shown recently on cable, for which we are grateful.
Perhaps with another director, some of the kinks in the film would have been ironed out. There are scenes that are just too painful to watch. Our hearts go out to Barlow and what he is going through at this time of his life. His writing is brilliant, but most everyone he submits his novels to, end up rejecting them. Barlow cannot take another defeat in his life.
To make matters worse, his divorce from Marilyn is driving him insane. We often wonder how these two unmatched pair thought they were going to make it at all. In bad marriages, both parties remain bitter over every little detail dictated by the court when they must separate.
Arliss Howard, as Barlow gives a heart felt performance. We see him sinking lower and lower without a safety net to hold him. Unfortunately, Debra Winger's time on screen is very short. Ms Winger makes this woman an enigma since we don't really know where her head is at. The other actors are good. Paul Le Mat, Rosanna Arquette and above all, a short, but very excellent turn by Angie Dickinson, make us care about the fate of these people.
Big Bad Love achieves what few films even strive for -- that gritty level
believability (laced with wonderful dream sequences throughout) that makes
it seem as though the camera was simply dropped into the center of these
There are a number of wonderful lines, and few scenes funnier than when unsuccessful writer, Leon Barlow (played by Howard), sits down to type a response to a letter from a magazine editor, rejecting one of his short stories.
Not to say that the film isn't uneven at times. Howard (who not only stars in the film, but also directs), remains true to his narrative, which does become difficult to watch as Barlow becomes more self-destructive. The dream sequences become muddled after a while, but only because that's how Barlow is experiencing them.
Performances by Paul Le Mat, Debra Winger, Angie Dickinson, and Rosanna Arquette are all very strong. The soundtrack is top-notch.
I highly recommend this film, particularly as an anti-dote to the vapid doggerel Hollywood continues to churn out like link sausages.
A surreal movie based on a short story collection by Mississippi writer Larry Brown. Arliss Howard directs and stars as Leon Barlow, a drunken writer who struggles with the demands of his ex-wife (Debra Winger), his children and his best friend (Paul LeMat). He is a failure on almost every level certainly personally and professionally and Howard doesn't shy away from his protagonist's shortcomings. The resulting film is a meandering look at the creative process, and how one man messed up his life. It's a well crafted directorial debut from Howard who handles this quiet tale of an artist's redemption with a firm hand.
Rest in peace Larry Brown. It's so bizarre. I was just re-watching one
of my favorite movies of all time last night (Big Bad Love). Larry
Brown wrote the book, and he also has a small part as Barlow's father
in the film.
Then I read on-line that Larry died today of a heart attack (11/24/04). That is very strange. Anyway, if you haven't seen it, watch the movie "Big Bad Love" (see my review in an earlier listing 4/21/03). I found the story, acting and music to be some of the most moving material I've ever experienced. Don't worry, there are plenty of laughs too. If this flick doesn't draw some emotion from you, you better check for a pulse.
Also get the soundtrack CD. It has some of the coolest blues that you'll ever hear. It features several artists from the North Mississippi Hill Country region, where the movie was filmed. R.L. Burnside and Kenny Brown even have cameo appearances. It's some big bad music.
Big bad love is a truly beautiful movie. Arliss Howard has done what I have been eagerly expecting for a long lime,i.e. portrayed a tormented human being without the typical Hollywood string-quartet having to tell you when to feel something. The acting itself along with the perfect script and footage render this film a credibility and sincerity seldom found in American movies. Thanks Howard Arliss!
Arliss Howard acts and directs in "Big Bad Love" which he co-produced with
his wife, Debra Winger. Ms. Winger returns to the screen as the former
spouse of Howard. She delivers a performance that made me regret her
away from the set. From a starting point as a more or less typical
mother with kids she develops her character into a wrenching portrait of
both strength and vulnerability.
In a series of illusions, hallucinations and surreal flashbacks, wounded Vietnam vet Leon (Howard) devotes his life to three endeavors: fiction writing, drinking and attempting, through the fog of alcohol, to be a dad to his little boy and girl. His rejection notices are so many that even after wallpapering a room with them he needs a fifty-five gallon oil drum next to his desk to hold the rest. Voiceovers read the letters which contain just about every cliche from the canon of editorial rejection imaginable.
Leon seems to be welded to beer cans - except when he hits the hooch for a change. I don't think anyone writes coherently when he's three sheets to the wind but this guy can.
As a dad he is both devoted and distracted, the often exasperating but permanent part of many a divorced mom's life.
The setting is a rural part of Mississippi that some reviewers have described as beautiful but which I found desolate and depressing (but that's my Gotham viewpoint, no insult intended to the locals portrayed in this film).
Arliss's character, Leon, has a strong friendship with Monroe, a buddy from combat. Unfortunately the lubricant for their relationship inevitably leads to big time trouble. Without excess sentimentality, the two friends navigate a small world that presents minor pleasures and real disappointments. The friendship is deep and real but with a touch of middle-aged regression to adolescence.
The acting here is as strong as the Mississippi drawl. There is little predicability beyond the reality that NOTHING will stop Arliss from writing and sending his many, many manuscripts off to faceless editors, apparently all or mostly in New York.
This film needs a strong word-of-mouth boost to get the audiences it deserves and it'll probably mostly be seen on VHS and DVD. Howard's and Winger's strong and affecting acting offer, I hope, promises for a renewed future for both in film.
Part warm comedy, part bleak tragedy, part hallucinatory vision, this
film paints an irresistible and touchingly human portrait of a Southern
writer's life and it's milieu. Rural and small-town scenes and
characters are rendered with loving attention to detail and respect for
the rich eccentricities and quirky oddities of the main character and
his family, friends and townsfolk. Every role brilliantly acted, every
scene beautifully photographed, and as an added bonus the author's
first-person narrative voice-over comes chock-full of fascinating
samples of original poetry and poetic prose.
Produced by Debra Winger, who also plays a major speaking role, written and directed by Arliss Howard, who also plays the lead character, their love for this story and these characters literally oozes from each frame, each word of dialog, each piece of soundtrack music. Anyone who finds inspiration in wild free-form poetry will fall in love with this film. It made me laugh out loud, sob till I had to grab a tissue, and think to myself as the credits rolled, "THIS is what film-making is all about!" If your taste runs towards literate, character-centered stories and you are not put off by surrealist visuals and poetry, I urge you to SEE THIS FILM!
During the entire decade of the 1980's and toward the early 1990's,Debra
Winger was one of the hottest actresses working in Hollywood at the time and
she had a beau of leading actors that took her to the title of the box
office queen. Some of her leading men were John Travolta,Richard Gere,Marlon
Brando,and Jack Nicholson as well as with actors Robert Duvall and Ed
Harris. However,she would win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1983 for
"Terms of Endearment",and after that she went in submission for a
while.......only to resurface.
However,Debra Winger makes her return here in one of the best performances of her career. "Big Bad Love" is a film based on the writings of Mississippi author Larry Brown. She people think that she retired from the cimema in recent years(her last film was nine years ago under the direction of Bernardo Bertlucci),but takes this chance to star opposite her real-life husband Arliss Howard(who stars,directs,and wrote the script). Howard plays,Leon Barlow,a depressive,alcoholic Vietnam veteran and aspiring writer. Aside from holding a candle for hs ex-wife(Winger),most of Barlow's time focuses on daily trips to the mailbox,sending off plies of manuscripts,and following enough rejection letters to wallpaper hs bathroom. He is played as a sympathetic ne'er-do -well,lovable enough to be excused for shirking his familial responsiblities as a father(including his two precious children),until the end of the film,when tragedy strikes and Barlow is forced out of his cynical melancholy.
Strong performances from Angie Dickinson as well(in a grand return to the silver screen)as Rosanna Arquette(whom I haven't heard from since the 1990's)and Paul Le Mat. This movie had the heart,the guts and the soul that makes it a piece of grand cimematic work. A must see!
Rating: **** out of *****
This essentially comic movie tells a suitably disjointed story of the crazed writing life in the South. All the players -- Arliss Howard, Debra Winger, the underrated Paul Le Mat, Rosanna Arquette, and Angie Dickinson -- are excellent. Instead of spoonfeeding us, the movie lets us discover the characters' past lives and motivations. It contains grand images: someone's novel scattered in a giant patch of kudzu; a painting in progress on the side of a rusted railroad car. Some people will like it just for the music, including by Tom Waits.
I enjoyed this movie, not for what Howard and Winger left in from the
original literary fiction of Larry Brown, but for what they brought to
the story. Winger and Howard are big fans of Brown and the adaptation
is brilliant in sections. If this film put you to sleep, it's because
you were never awake.
The film version of Big Bad Love is based not on the entire collection of short stories in the book of the same title, but only on the novella that ends the collection titled 92 Days. It follows the exploits of an aspiring writer named Leon Barlow and the people that surround him for a period of ninety two days. And the screenwriter/director Arliss Howard chose to interpret the world of Barlow by presenting portions of the original fiction through the use of non-Diegetic sound. The distinction between diegetic or non-diegetic sound depends on our understanding of the conventions of film viewing and listening. Certain sounds are represented as coming from the story world, while others are represented as coming from outside the space of the story events. Diegetic sound is any sound presented as originated from a source within the films world. That is, sound whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film include voices of characters, sounds made by objects in the story and music represented as coming from instruments in the story space. Non-diegetic sound is represented as coming from a source outside story space. Sound whose source is neither visible on the screen nor has been implied to be present in the action such as narrator's commentary, sound effects which is added for the dramatic effect and mood music. A film with diegetic and non-diegetic conventions can be used to create ambiguity or to surprise the audience. This allows the writer/director to present the real world of the writer and what occurs in his mind as simultaneous events.
The particular scene in the movie Big Bad Love is called "Rejection Letter Blues" and involves Barlow arriving home from a long day of work painting houses and reading the multiple rejection letters for his novel. Barlow drinks as he does this and the audience hears the voices in Barlow's head reading the rejection letters. The voices are initially in English, but quickly move to Spanish to French to Arabic and so many languages finally overlapping, including cats and dogs, that the audience is given the impression that not only does Barlow believe the publishing world is against him, but the entire world, including animals, dislikes his work.
To add to the sense that all are against Barlow, the writer/director has created an imagined negative commentary about Barlow from a radio DJ and within a blues song, in which the lyrics convey a rejection letter to Barlow. Barlow furiously types an angry response, viscerally shouting out some of the words that he is typing. The DJ's commentary attacks Barlow's writing as unread and refers to him as a deadbeat, living in a s***box home. This non-diegetic use of sound in the filmic space allows the writer/director to convey in a short period of film what the author of the original literature spent a great majority of the story to convey: Barlow is alone against the world. The final shot of the scene presents Barlow jumping into a trashcan, casting himself as a piece of discarded trash.
The literary version, structured as a first person narrative, relies less on the fact that Barlow is drinking while reading the rejection letters and more on the verbiage of the rejection letter and the reply letter that Barlow writes. The passage sums with the description of Barlow writing through the night and how after finishing his story, addressing and stamping a manila envelope, Barlow walks the envelope to the mailbox and reflects that, "I was knocking, had been knocking for years, but it was taking a long time for them to let me in. I went back inside, turned off the lights, and went to bed. Alone" (Brown 144). Both versions use different techniques to achieve the same goal of isolating Barlow from the world.
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