Big Bad Love
REVIEW by Willard Manus


You've seen him as Cowboy in Full Metal Jacket and Parnell in I Know My
Name Is Steven and were undoubtedly knocked out by him, as he is one of
the finest character actors working today. But now Arliss Howard has
fought and clawed his way out of the supporting ranks and become not
only a leading man but a filmmaker of the first rank.

Howard not only stars in BIG BAD LOVE (along with his real- life wife,
Denra Winger) but has directed and co-written it. Based on stories by
the southern writer Larry Brown, BIG BAD LOVE is a true independent
film: tough, uncompromising and powerful. It is also full of startling and fresh images, scenes that sear their way into your consciousness. The film can also boast of pungent dialogue, memorable performances, and a blues sound track that drives the story down the rails like a diesel locomotive.

Howard plays Barlow, a man who is based on Brown himself, a self-taught
writer who struggled for years to get published, only to literally plaster his walls with rejection slips. Set in the Mississippi hill country, BIG BAD LOVE is about an outsider, a rebel and a failure who simply refuses to give up fighting, no matter how many body blows he takes from editors, women and life itself.

Barlow is a skinny, hard-drinking, sharp-tongued guy who could be the
subject of one of the blues songs he listens to endlessly. He's got an ex-wife, Marilyn (Winger) and two kids, but his temper and drinking got the worst of him, forcing her to take out a restraining order against him. He still loves her, though, and vice versa, but he blew it and there is little chance for a reconciliation. The pain is made worse by the fact he can't spend much time with his kids, one of whom has an incurable disease.

Barlow gets no sympathy, not even from his own mother (Angie Dickinson), a proper and well-to-do matron who wishes he'd clean up his act and stop embarrassing her with rude, drunken behavior that recalls her own late husband. Barlow can't change his spots, though--and even if he couldn't, he wouldn't. Nice polite middleclass life isn't for him; he'd rather live in a dump, paint houses for a few bucks, and type his guts out on an old portable, trying to make fiction (and sense) out of his life and dreams, his loves and obsessions.

Barlow does have a good friend, Monroe (Paul Le Mat), who not only drinks and carouses with him (they know every juke joint in the county) but swaps literary and poetic quotations. The two of them also served in Vietnam together and were forever scarred by the experience. Monroe is a bit luckier in love; he falls for Velma (Rosanna Arquette), a giggly, sexy, goodtime southern belle, and asks her to marry him.

The marriage takes, but tragedy eventually splinters it. BIG BAD LOVE
is a dark story, one that deals with death and grief, but it's also shot through too with flashes of light, star-bursts of humor, bawdiness, love and hope.

Howard directs in audacious and original fashion, letting information and backstory leak out only here and there, leaving it up to the audience to fill in the gaps and think for itself. His visual and narrative style are truly unique, even off the wall, in David Lynch fashion. But where Lynch is all show and tricks, Howard has a deep sense of compassion and understanding, an all- embracing humanity. He may experiment visually, but, unlike Lynch, there is always a heart beating beneath the surface.

BIG BAD LOVE is about the struggle of a flawed man to become an artist,
to succeed against overwhelming odds. It is also, as Howard says, about
"birth death love work friendship, pick 'em...And trains."

It is also about the blues, as evidenced by its red-hot, down-home soundtrack which is packed with songs by Kenny Brown, Asie Payton, R.L.
Burnside, T Model Ford, Junior Kimbrough, Tom Waits and many others.
They help to make BIG BAD LOVE the terrific little film it is.