Combustible Celluloid
Search for Posters
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
Download at i-tunes Download on iTunes
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Arliss Howard, Debra Winger, Paul Le Mat, Rosanna Arquette, Angie Dickinson, Michael Parks, Alex Van, Zachary Moody, Olivia Kersey
Written by: James Howard, Arliss Howard, based on stories by Larry Brown
Directed by: Arliss Howard
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality
Running Time: 111
Date: 05/12/2001

Big Bad Love (2002)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Bad' Company

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Truth be told, I saw Big Bad Love only once, way back in October before the Mill Valley Film Festival. I despised it and immediately put it out of my mind. Of course, I had the opportunity to see it again recently, but I decided I'd rather drink a jar of apple cider vinegar. Now I'm faced with the prospect of trying to dredge up painful memories of it in order to warn you good folks not to see it. Big Bad Love is directed and co-written by Arliss Howard, an actor probably best known for his performances in Full Metal Jacket and Jurassic Park: The Lost World. He also plays the lead role, a drunken writer named Leon Barlow who smokes all the time and manages to keep friends around despite the fact that he's completely offensive.

Every morning Barlow wakes up in some weird place, like the bathtub, lights a cigarette to help clear out the hangover, and starts writing. He keeps a pile of manila envelopes and his own postage meter by his battered typewriter because he sends out a huge pile of manuscripts every day. And every day he collects an equally huge pile of rejected manuscripts. We have no idea what he writes, other than the fact that it's supposed to be absolutely brilliant -- so brilliant that no one understands it. Somehow he has to pay for all the alcohol he consumes, and so he paints houses with his buddy Monroe (Paul Le Mat). He occasionally manages to take care of his kids, trading off with his ex-wife (Debra Winger, Howard's real-life wife). And his mother (Angie Dickinson) occasionally shows up to bark at him. Rosanna Arquette also stars as Monroe's wife, a Southern girl with not much to say.

On top of it all, Howard the director decides to grind the movie into itty-bitty pieces, mix them all up and throw them all out like dice. Scenes flash back and forward almost randomly, blues songs play at fast and slow tempos, and the filmmaking itself becomes as self-consciously egotistical and abrasive as the characters. However, one element of the film works beautifully, and that's Winger. She plays one absolutely transcendent scene that ranks among the actress's greatest moments on film. Barlow visits her one rainy night (toward the end of the film) and finds her lying on a hammock on the front porch. Winger glances at him and says, "I went out to collect the laundry and I just couldn't make it. I'm too tired. I'm just lying here listening to the rain." The camera stays on her for a moment, and we suddenly feel everything we would ever need to know about this character -- without any big "I remember when I was young" speeches.

But the overall problem with Big Bad Love, adapted from short stories by Larry Brown, is that Howard presumably got too close to the material. He was unable to gain any perspective as to what made Leon Barlow work or not work, and his non-linear filmmaking probably didn't help matters. As a director, he must have spent most of his time simply keeping track of what shot went where and how many he had left. In any case, I would recommend Big Bad Love only to Winger fans who have missed her since 1995's Forget Paris. But even then, I'd recommend waiting for DVD and just skipping straight to her scenes.

Movies Unlimtied