Arliss Howard (Full Metal Jacket) and three-time OscarĀ(r) nominee* Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment) "achieve a tempestuous chemistry" (E! Online) in this alternately poignantand funny film based on the stories of Missis... more »sippi writer Larry Brown. Co-starring Rosanna Arquette, Paul Le Mat and Angie Dickinson, Big Bad Love is "blazingly alive, admirable [and] marvelously cinematic" (The Hollywood Reporter)! A sexy publisher reads submissions on horseback. A house floods with the tears of an overprotective grandma. And a soldier braves a minefield to bring a toy to his kid. But nothing in the fantasy life of alcoholic writer Leon Barlow (Howard) can compare with his reality. From a fiery relationship with his ex-wife (Winger) to enough rejectionslips to spell out the word "failure," it's no wonder Leon escapes into his imagination until a tragedy forces him to focus on tying his two estranged worlds back together. *1993: Actress, Shadowlands; 1983: Actress, Terms of Endearment; 1982: Actress, An Officer and a Gentleman« less
"It is a brave, albeit sometimes foolish, thing to invest one's soul in one creative project. Arliss Howard as writer, co-producer, director, and star of this film stepped up to the plate, and blasted this one out of the park. He took a series of short stories by realist Southern writer Larry Brown, raw jangled events, and weaved a remarkable semi-cohesive odyssey from them.Howard, as director, created the kind of film that slaps you in the face. It showers you with smokey narrative, and challenges you to stay up with it. It is very cinematic, laden with lush flashbacks, Fellinisk absurdist characters frolicing about, voice-overs (some of which overlap), surrealism, and piercing symbolism. It recreated the musky flavors of Mississippi, in pace, dialect, and imagery. Some of the dialogue was clever, worth quoting, and much of it was colloquial; rife with down-home twang and swagger. Barlow, the main character, at one point said," I want to punch a mudhole in your ass, and stomp it dry.".Howard, as producer, teamed up with his wife, Debra Winger, and convinced IFC to release it. Howard, as writer, collaborated with Larry Brown's brother Jim, and they transcribed all the swarthy confusion, drama, and epiphany of the short stories, overlaying them with a through-line and a fascinating protagonist engaged on a drunken angry journey from bathos to clarity. Howard, as actor, gave an intense, passionate, and unsympathetic performance; like Ed Harris in POLLOCK. We sensed the character's genius, and we were forced to wade hip deep in his imperfections. Leon Barlow was a man fighting demons, and taking heavy body punches. A wannabe writer, a Vietnam vet, an alcoholic, a deadbeat dad, a brawler, and an eccentric. He smoked too much, drank too much, and was not a responsible parent for his wonderful son and daughter. But he was also a loyal and loving friend, and a talented writer. Howard was so good in this part, Roger Ebert in his review reacted emotionally to the negativity of the character. For much of the picture Barlow was falling down drunk, literally, and Howard portrayed it masterfully. The image of Barlow haunts us; that gaunt enebreated stare, that sparkling intellect swirling below the booze, that muscular back covered in scars, his PTSD, that ever present cigarette dangling from his lips.Paul Le Mat gave one of his best performances as Monroe, the good buddy and best friend. He seemed to be quite wealthy, but after he and Barlow returned from Viet Nam, all he ever wanted to do was hang out with his friend. He became patron and caretaker. He loved the man, and he stood by him regardless of the risk. After Monroe was nearly killed when an Army truck collided with his stalled pick-up, leaving him brain damaged and remote, Barlow was cut loose. And this tragedy came on the searing heels of Barlow losing his angelic daughter to a respiratory ailment. The twin traums seemed to shake the hangover cobwebs from his psyche, forcing him to look into the abyss of his excesses. Then like a bolt of white light he received an acceptance letter for some of his writing, and the denouement was complete.Debra Winger, as Marilyn, the ex-wife, reminded us that we have missed her screen presence for far too long. Her small scene where she finally lets the grief from her daughter's death descent upon her was devastating. Thematically, Barlow, in jail, had the same moment to stare at his child's snapshot and grieve. Their co-mingled cries of loss and anguish rose together as parents, and it became doubly hard to resist one's tears. Rosanna Arquette had fun with Velma, Monroe's girlfriend, then wife. Her mixture of ditz-sexuality and geniune compassion rang true. Angie Dickinson, as the mother, Mrs. Barlow, did a credible job of joining the ensemble. Michael Parks, as the storekeeper, Mr. Aaron, was almost recognizable. Only his habitual mumbling clued us in; although to his credit he did create a memorable character. Several Tom Waits tunes, and other blues selections were used for musical tone. I wondered how Tom Waits, as actor, would have approached Mr. Aaron. One fun bit of casting had author Larry Brown playing the father, Mr. Barlow. The film is a carnival ride, and we are swept up in a maelstrom of delusion, cigarette smoke, stale beer, tragedy, humor, and whiskey. As it winds down finally, as the emotional storm abates, we are left with an odd sense of warmth, as if the arduous journey has paid off, and we are left with a sun-kissed birdsong moment on a cloudless Southern morning."
An Imperfect Lesson
Frank J. Foley | 12/28/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I think this will be a movie that people keep looking for - until it gains the appropriate status it deserves. Even if it's 20 years from now. It's terrific - even if unsettling, a bit hard to follow (unless you free up your head to let the movie lead you), idiosynchratic (to say the least), and challenging. It's a piece, not just a movie. Every little detail is right and in its right place. If you want a lesson in acting, watch this movie. Arliss Howard, Debra Winger, Paul LeMat, Rosanna Arquette, Angie Dickinson are wonderful - honest, real, without a trace of how they do this amazing work. (Catch the neat cameo by Michael Parks, too) The acting is so smoothly done that these people could be your neighbors - and certainly mine. These are great actors/actresses - all of whom have been underrated in their careers and not "scene" often enough. The photography is enthralling at times. Beautiful, even when focused on the ugly. There is warmth and wit and heart and honesty. There is a very true portrait of what it is like for a writer - or perhaps any creative person - who, not always by choice, must live in his/her own head. "All you know, Leon, is what goes on in your own head." The music is a perfect match. While the directing requires a lot from the viewer and the script, written by Jim P. Howard and Arliss Howard (yes, the very same Arliss Howard)based on stories by Larry Brown (very much worth reading), is not easy at times, the movie is well worth the effort to find it. If you want a movie about real people, with real humor, real daily struggles, and a great big heart - this is it. With the DVD you can replay the hard parts, enjoy again the great parts. An imperfect (sorta like real life) movie, yes, but the lessons about movie making and the lessons about acting from this cast are perfect. If you truly get into this film, you'll never quite look at yourself in the mirror the same way again."
Hand of Doom | The Wonderful World of Colonized Minds | 02/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Others have already given comprehensive reviews of this, so I won't retread, but I just had to recommend this amazing little movie. It was obviously a labor of love in the making, and is much closer to the reality of relationships and human problems than most of the Hollywood junk that folks have grown accustomed to being spoon-fed. "The only thing you know is what goes on inside your head", and that existential posit is true enough.
I'll never forget that image of the boxcar slowly trailing away.Surreal and touching, funny as it is harrowing and desperate, these characters seek renewal and escape...if that's possible.
Or are they, like all of us, prisoner's of their own lives and subject to the winds of fate?"
Didn't know what to expect
Pam Gearhart | Woolstock, IA USA | 10/21/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've read some Larry Brown novels but not the short story this movie was based on -- this might have been a good thing. I had no particular expectations, except that the movie would be about a writer and that, as with other Brown characters, the writer would be frustrated and maybe drunk.
I'm *not* a writer, so this is hard for me to explain -- but watching Big Bad Love was like being in Brown's head. What a great experience. I can't think of any other film that's done this. I enjoyed every second, and I'd like to thank Arliss Howard and everyone involved for doing it."
Lots of heart.
Pam Gearhart | 02/29/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"BIG BAD LOVE takes more chances than a lot of films that have been made in the last several years. It relies a lot on surreal imagery and a fragmentary pacing to convey the messiness of the life of Leon Barlow, full-time writer and wrecked-up vet. Arliss Howard embodies Barlow fully; it's amazing that he was able to both direct and star in this film and to do a great job in both roles (and a third; he co-wrote the script as well). Paul Le Mat, a great actor who should be seen more often onscreen, almost steals the film away from Howard in the part of his best friend Monroe, who suffers a tragic turn of events that ironically partly serves to bring a semblance of balance to Barlow's out-of-kilter life. The whole movie is a finely-wrought stream-of-consciousness tale, with the underlying theme being that people somehow manage to maintain connections with one another despite the body-blows delivered by life. Highly recommended."