In the first 15 minutes of The Brown Bunny, we learn everything we need to know about the desperately lonely and pathetic character portrayed by Vincent Gallo, who also wrote, directed, produced, edited and photographed the movie.
Bud (he's waiting to blossom) Clay (he's malleable) races motorcycles and pines for his ex-girlfriend Daisy Lemon (a bittersweet flower). He's heading back to California in his black van to find her. He stops at a convenience store and meets pretty young Rose (another flower). He quietly begs her to go along with him. Rose scrawls a farewell note to her aunt and uncle, who own the store. They stop at Rose's home to get her things. They kiss in the van. And when Rose goes inside, Bud drives away, knowing it would be wrong to take her.
The rest of The Brown Bunny follows gentle, tormented Bud across country as he engages a dingy Americana that most of us pass by. At one rest stop, he sits down next to Lilly. They kiss a while, he cries a little, she comforts him, and he leaves. Soon he reaches Los Angeles, where there's a hooker on every corner (he buys a McDonald's lunch for one of them). When Bud finally finds Daisy (Chloe Sevigny), Gallo borrows the bright white visual style of their reunion -- and his movie's ending -- from the 2000 film Urbania.
As a writer/director, Gallo (Buffalo '66) isn't the first psychological shipwreck to make movies about (essentially) how screwed up he is. Todd Solondz, Abel Ferrara and David Lynch have all done it, with varying degrees of artistic success. (I've listed them in my order of preference, from best to overrated.) But Gallo isn't in their league because The Brown Bunny is too dully existential when it needs to be transformational-generative. Gallo can't seem to get outside himself to reflect on his material: His dialogue feels clumsily improvised, and his actors tend to mumble and drone (as usual for the listless Sevigny).
Gallo films The Brown Bunny using many long takes of more or less nothing. (We often see the highway through the bug-splattered windshield of Bud's van.) His sole moment of visual interest occurs when Bud stops to ride his motorcycle across a vast salt plateau, driving off into the steaming horizon and, in an optical illusion, seeming to take flight.
The Brown Bunny -- the title refers to both a pet rabbit and a gift of chocolate -- has received some notoriety because of a scene of fellatio that Gallo films explicitly. He didn't really need to, but that's between him and his actress. Our job is to discuss whether it's art, which is a matter of individual judgment and taste. So yes, The Brown Bunny is a serious work of art. But so is that short story you wrote in your college fiction class. You know: the one that nobody will publish because, all intentions aside, it's just not very good.