This evening I caught up with the Oscar nominated Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell’s follow up to 2010’s The Fighter. I enjoyed it mostly, aside from the slightly plot heavy narrative during the second third. However what struck me most was its glaring resemblance to Vincent Gallo’s masterpiece Buffalo ’66. As soon as the movie ended I had planned to (and still intend to, if truth be told) devote an entire post to this very subject. Infuriatingly, it seems that I was not the first to notice the debt owed by Russell to the 1998 indie classic. Indeed, a quick Google search for Buffalo ’66 and Silver Linings Playbook should yield a plethora of posts, comments and articles devoted to pointing out their very obvious similarities.
And I guess they are very obvious. I mean they’re both about mentally unstable, unfeasibly good looking men recently released from institutions (prison in the case of Gallo and a court imposed spell at a mental hospital for Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook). And both protagonists have an equally mentally unwell parent obsessed with an American Football team, Robert de Niro and the Eagles in Silver Linings, Anjelica Huston and the Bills in Buffalo ’66. They both bear a tragic, obsessive, unrequited love for a woman that has possibly wronged them (in both cases a redhead, I might add). And they both take up with much younger, dance obsessed, goth chicks. The theme of illegal gambling also runs through both.
That said, it would be unfair to suggest that Silver Linings is a complete rip off of Buffalo ’66. It isn’t, although the fact that more critics did not pick up on the influence of the latter is odd. Silver Linings is a much more benevolent and conventional piece, and I mean that in the nicest and least patronising way possible. I guess it’s like the Gervais and Merchant to Buffalo ’66‘s Lee and Herring*. As one of the five people alive that actually enjoyed I ♥ Huckabees, I have been slightly disappointed with Russell’s recent career trajectory, particularly the ultra bland The Fighter. At least Silver Linings is an affecting, if conventional and cliché ridden, drama.
But old Gallo isn’t entirely innocent in all of this either. While everyone was too busy (erroneously) accusing him of ripping off John Cassavetes in 1998 when Buffalo ’66 was released, they overlooked the movie’s greatest influence – Barbara Loden’s 1970 classic, Wanda. Annoyingly, I wasn’t the first to notice this either. From it’s washed out, blown-up 16mm aesthetic to the quirky central relationship between its feckless, eponymous heroine and Michael Higgins’ armed robber, anyone who sees Loden’s overlooked classic should recognise the debt owed by Gallo to this pioneering director.
So I suppose that everybody is probably ripping somebody off. I guess that the secret lies in ripping off something like Wanda, a film that is probably only seen by film studies students these days, rather than Buffalo ’66, a film that changed the lives of countless nerds now in their late twenties/early thirties and with fans anal enough to post these types of rebukes on the internet.
*Possibly a very bad analogy. But I’m sure you get my point.