director Miguel Arteta
Chuck & Buck is the second of three films that I queued up in response to an Entertainment Weekly article citing a list of the best films “you haven’t seen” of the last 25 years. I recalled it from when it came out, now over a decade ago, and I’ve actually seen a handful of films that director Miguel Arteta has made since, including The Good Girl (2002), Youth in Revolt (2009), and most recently Cedar Rapids (2011). Despite the fact that I didn’t really care for any of those films, the fact that Chuck & Buck was recalled as interesting and worth noting, I thought I’d give it a go.
The film is an odd one. It’s a comedy. Sort of. A drama, more like. With a tone that really only seems to come together toward the end.
It’s really Buck’s story. Played by Mike White from a script written by him, Buck is a man-child whose mother has just passed away. He sucks lollipops all day long and surrounds himself with his personal effluvia circa his 11th birthday. So when his childhood friend “Chuck” (played by Director Chris Weitz) shows up at Buck’s mother’s funeral with his fiancee, and Chuck tries to make a move on him, it’s a little creepy. Chuck, not able to recognize the inappropriateness of his behavior, nor Chuck’s rejection, follows Chuck to Los Angeles to stalk the hell out of him. Stalking the hell out of him also includes producing a play about their relationship in a small theater opposite Chuck’s office all about their relationship, which included a sexual element in their formative years.
The stalking is creepy, not funny. Though it turns out that Buck is really just a sad, lost guy who is harmless, though socially beyond awkward.
Their sexual relations shaped Buck into who he became, with his hero-worship of Chuck and undying love. For Chuck, it was a moment in time that past and went on to mean little in his life. And he strives very hard to keep it that way.
Ultimately, Buck is very sympathetic. And his journey, a sort of late-stage “coming of age” is the heart of the film, and it is touching. By weird circumstance, it leads him to create art, collages as well as his play, hooking him up with a Latina woman who goes from ticket taker to producer in her relationship with him. It’s a track to finding himself, in part, through artistic expression, poorly constructed or ham-fisted as it turns out to be. And the film has a hopeful ending.
It’s weird to see Weitz in this role. His brother, Paul, who he began his career as co-directors of American Pie (1999) also appears as a proxy for Chuck in Buck’s eyes. The brothers’ limitations in their acting works sort of well here. Paul plays a bad actor fairly well. And Chris is the emotionally reserved, unsentimental focus of worship.
But it’s really White’s movie. He wrote it. He gives it its soul.
I’d say it’s not a great film, though it is a sort of odd, creepy, yet somehow touching thing. Mixing awkwardness, inappropriateness, and downright creepiness with love, repression, and hope.