Big Bad Love

A valentine to Mississippi firefighter-turned-writer Larry Brown, author of Fay, Joe, and other stories set in unforgiving corners of the South, Big Bad Love is by and large the labor of love of one man: veteran character actor Arliss Howard, who stars, directs, and co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Jim. Looking a bit like Neil Young six months into a world tour, Howard plays Brown surrogate Leroy Barlow, a writer who lives in a crumbling country house, his refrigerator filled only with beer, his bathroom papered with rejection notices, his ashtrays brimming with stubs, and his writing implement of choice an old manual typewriter. Though Big Bad Love was inspired by Brown's autobiographical stories, Howard's character never stretches beyond the borders established by the grim-writer clichés, and the well-realized Southern setting only proves that country soil can be just as hospitable as urban pavement when it comes to unchecked pretension. As Howard goes drunkenly about his day, his imagination seeps into the world around him. When weeping mother Angie Dickinson begins to express her worries, for instance, the skies break open in a torrent to match her tears. But such effects, while nicely incorporated by Requiem For A Dream editor Jay Rabinowitz, play less like the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez than Ally McBeal, and quickly grow as tiresome as they are obvious. Though the fine cast (including Paul Le Mat, Debra Winger, and Rosanna Arquette) is frequently required to speak like a bunch of stoned Ole Miss grad students, they help offset Big Bad Love's problems, but the junk-shop surrealism ultimately gets the better of everyone's good intentions. As a crisis mounts, Howard comes across a sign that reads, "Jesus is not coming," while Patsy Cline's "Crazy" plays at the wrong speed. At another point, as Howard and Le Mat begin wrestling, Winger pelts them with fruit salad, yelling, "Stop telling us this story!" It sounds like the truest line in the film.

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