By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated February 20, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST
Big Bad Love: Elliott Marks

There’s a sticker on the re- issued edition of Larry Brown’s collection of short stories, the basis of the short-story-size film Big Bad Love: ”First read the book, then see the movie.” This is good advice. The cinematic tone first-time director and longtime actor Arliss Howard favors — all beery and bluesy — is dictated by the pickup-truck-lovin’, guys-and-gals-ruttin’ prose style of the Mississippi-steeped Brown. The author’s romanticized antihero, Leon Barlow, is a Vietnam vet with a busted marriage and a burning need to write, even when his mailbox is crammed with rejection letters. Even when he’s drunk. And hurtin’.

Without Brown’s own literary ”Big Bad Love” in mind, though, Howard’s ”Big Bad Love” bewilders — a whole lot of opulent Southern atmosphere about some stunted, opaque characters; a flip-book of vignettes packaged as a coffee-table project. (The intriguing limited-edition cast includes Paul Le Mat as Barlow’s war buddy and Angie Dickinson as Barlow’s mother.) Howard luxuriates in writerly misery as Barlow, and the participation of the filmmaker’s real-life wife, Debra Winger, as Barlow’s ex gives the scenes between the two of them an unfakeable erotic charge. But in the end, this is a story about a hard-to-know guy who loves his typewriter most of all. Everything else is just dust-jacket photography.

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