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Buck is a man-child who has lived his existence in a life of Romper Room, kindergarten collages, and lollipops. When his mother dies suddenly, Buck remembers his old childhood friend Chuck, with whom he feels a need to reconnect after having invited him to his mother's funeral. Buck treks out to Los Angeles where Chuck, an up-and-coming music record executive, is living his life. Buck ends up developing an obsession with Chuck and begins stalking him. Written by
If you're losing faith in the creativity of screenwriters, "Chuck and Buck" should be an eye opener. This cleverly conceived film could be called a new twist on the theme of obsessive love, yet that would not really do it justice. "Chuck and Buck" explores the classic tale of unrequited longing not only from a new angle, but attempts to sound the very depths of that longing.
Directed with great assurance by Miguel Arteta and written by Mike White (who also plays Buck), this is a film that really succeeds in taking an audience somewhere they have (probably) never been. Nearly everyone can relate to a tale of frustrated love. Buck's monomaniacal fixation of his love object is nothing new to movies. This character could recall, by turns, John Heard in "Chilly Scenes of Winter" or Isabelle Adjani in "The Story of Adele H.". And, like those and myriad other lovesick character studies, "Chuck and Buck" offers the viewer some basis of the obsession. Where the new film is unique is in the extremely close observation of a lovestruck character as a manchild. Buck has-in the deepest emotional sense-truly never left his childhood behind. His bedroom is replete with every little-boy accessory: piles of boxed board games, stuffed animals, and the persistent motif, an illuminated plastic globe that displays lollypops. When his mother dies at the outset of the film, Buck-now 27-instantly transfers his emotional dependency onto Chuck, his best friend from childhood. Not surprisingly, the latter has moved forward into an adult life. Chuck has gone to LA, taken a job with an independent recording company, and gotten himself engaged. Buck tracks his old friend down, inviting him to his mother's funeral, and wastes no time in letting Chuck know that the special quality of their childhood relationship-a sexual one-has not been forgotten. In fact, Buck wants to take right up where they left off some sixteen years ago. As might be expected, Chuck, his fiancee in tow, heads immediately for the Hollywood Hills. When the indomitable Buck relocates himself to LA to pursue his romantic destiny, the two men embark upon one of the oddest, most entertaining and most wrenching psychodramas yet encountered on screen.
One of many notable aspects of the film is its completely unapologetic attitude to homosexuality. Buck certainly has a problem, but it is one of infantilism, not of sexual orientation. Even in moments of dire frustration at Buck's relentless advances, Chuck never condemns his friend for who he is. For some, an identification of homosexuality with infantilism may be seen as a subtext here. But to this reviewer, the sexuality issue serves a more symbolic end: these childhood friends whose names rhyme are two sides of one coin. They have more in common than Chuck, perhaps, would admit and their bond goes deeper than even Buck could know.
Chris Weitz does very fine work bringing an exasperated Chuck to life. Although his character is much less finely drawn, Chuck can elicit as much audience-identification as Buck does. Weitz' facial expressions, as realizations slowly dawn upon him are expert and compelling. In the role of a neighborhood theater guardian angel, Lupe Ontiveros is downright marvelous. She finds the exact key to a character who discovers herself through association with the enigmatic Buck. Best of all is Mike White as Buck, a textbook case of perfect casting. White could not look more suited to the role: his slightly drooping, half-open mouth and shock of red hair are both comic and oddly endearing. So identified with is White with Buck that it is difficult to avoid thinking the role is somewhat autobiographical.
In a film of many fascinating and clever touches, one especially stands out. Running out of avenues to Chuck, Buck decides to write and produce a play about his frustrating friendship. With the help of the Ontiveros character and some hilarious backstage tribulations, the play is performed and, as a conciliatory gesture, attended by Chuck. The upshot of this entertaining, but disturbing episode is unexpected and moving. Shot on digital video tape by Chuy Chavez, the film has a fuzzy, home-movie quality. And the many hand-held shots have only a slight documentary feeling, due to the complete lack of any sense of improvisation in this tightly scripted venture. "Chuck and Buck" takes chances with it characters and its narrative. While some of its components may work better than others, it boldly questions the meaning of emotional maturity and friendship. Highly recommended.
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