Two of 1998's better American films, screening together at the UC Theater this Saturday, feature sullen Christina Ricci as the passive-aggressive love object of a variety of foolish men. Whether as the tart-tongued tart of Don Roos' The Opposite of Sex or as the lump of love in Vincent Gallo's Buffalo '66, Ricci dominates every scene she's in with her baleful, voluptuous tactility. Although her baby-fat fleshiness renders her very much a physical object, with her deadpan opacity she's the opposite of sexiness, her stubborn refusal to sparkle so different from the attention-grabbing gambits of all other ingenues.
Though she's very limited as an actor -- as her attempts at winning sympathy late in The Opposite of Sex demonstrate -- she commands the screen the way pudgy Marlene Dietrich did in The Blue Angel: by a divine right of surliness. As the nasty girl of The Opposite of Sex, who breaks up her gay brother's happy home and leads him on a merry cross-country chase, Ricci is almost too perfectly cast. More conventional than the bizarre Buffalo '66, Roos' film is entertaining in its adroit mix of clever plot and dialogue.
By contrast Gallo's peculiar film -- a blend of early Godard and midperiod Cassavetes, with some 1966-style split-screen photography thrown in -- is easily the best student film ever made by a non-student. The pop-eyed Gallo stars in his own movie as a pathological, self-pitying ex-con redeemed by the love of his tap-dancing kidnap victim (Ricci). Everybody, including Gallo's awful parents (Ben Gazzara and Anjelica Huston), betrays and humiliates Gallo save Ricci. In its masochism, narcissism, and grandiosity, Buffalo '66 suggests Dostoevski as workshopped by Method actors, with, once again, Ricci's stubbornly unacted screen presence giving this crybaby male fantasy some badly needed ballast.