Weekend Watching: Chuck and Buck

The past isn’t always a happy place to visit and when Buck’s mother dies he’s thrown straight back into his adolescence. Seemingly naïve and innocent, Buck develops a fascination with old childhood friend Chuck that quickly turns into an obsession.

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Chuck and Buck (2000) comes from the pen of Mike White (School of Rock) and it’s a low budget, but utterly compelling indie film. It did really well at Sundance back in 2000 with its quirky and unusual narrative.

The plot follows Buck, a man in his twenties who seems to be stuck in his prepubescent years. When his beloved mother dies he seeks solace from the only friend he can think of – Chuck. He’s a boyhood friend who moved away over a decade ago. Buck invites Chuck to his mother’s funeral and from there the story morphs into a tale about stalking. Buck follows Chuck to LA and begins to write a play. It all starts to get a bit meta.

Well-drawn characters

The real strength of this film is the incredibly detailed characterisation of Buck. He seems to exist in a perpetual state of adolescence, he constantly has a lollipop in his mouth, and he’s the epitome of ‘aw shucks,’ rosy cheeked Americana. The weird thing is that he’s 27 and this juxtaposition provides some odd moments. It’s not a funny portrayal of Buck, instead it feels heavy and often it even feels like laughing at his absurd circumstances would be wrong. As the film progresses it becomes clear that Buck is not really all right.

The way that Buck speaks smacks of a distant childhood that remains very much alive in his head. At one point he reminisces that he had gotten into such ‘royal trouble’. For Buck his childhood went on pause when his best friend Chuck left the neighbourhood. Now however he feels that they can rekindle that friendship and life can go on how it was (and how Buck feels it’s supposed to be).

Childhood trappings

There are some heart breaking scenes mixed in with the strange and this is a very affecting film. The soundtrack is sickly sweet and the recurring song used sounds like it was written for a child. It’s all about the context of Buck’s life and he surrounds himself with pictures of his mum, old toys, and general trappings of childhood. He is a man who hasn’t grown up.

The play that Buck sets out to write whilst in LA is interesting as it mirrors the wider narrative of the film. The play is about Chuck and Buck, now named Frank and Hank, and it serves as a therapeutic manifestation of Buck’s problems with Chuck. This is where the film becomes increasingly self-referential and Mike White, the writer of the screenplay stars as Buck the writer of this self-contained play. The adult actors in the play are also required to act as children further cementing the symbolic nature of the narrative.

Buck needs to move on

Chuck and Buck is an interesting film, at times dark and trippy, but with the promise of future sunshine. This is something that Buck can attain if he just leaves the past behind and moves forward with his life. That’s the battle he has to fight and this odd little film showcases Mike White as a very talented writer and actor.

Old visuals

The film is shot on digital video and this lends it a decidedly dated air. This is completely over shadowed by the performances and the direction from Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt) and Chuck and Buck resists being contextualised by its time. That’s not to say that the film is easy watching; it’s just that the old nature of the film is not to blame for the discomfort it inspires. That’s down to the subject matter, which encompasses stalking, allusions to pre-teen sex, and social inadequacy. Chuck and Buck makes you squirm but it’ll keep you watching because you want to know why Buck is the way he is. You keep watching because you want him to be redeemed.

Whether or not that question is answered is not up to the film to decide. Chuck and Buck is Mike White’s movie and as Buck, he pushes the narrative from nervous, uncomfortable moment to moment. The character of Buck is a testament to White’s skill as a screenwriter and Buck’s childlike desire to return to the Eden of his childhood is laden with homosexual subtext.

Buck is too innocent

Buck is ostensibly innocent and this makes him fairly blameless. He has no shame and he knows no boundaries and as he attempts to convince Chuck to remain friends, he also begins to convince audiences. Buck isn’t such a bad guy and his increasingly desperate attempts to win Chuck over are humorous, dark, and ultimately sympathetic.

Mike White has written a story about a stalker and somehow the stalker element isn’t the main focus. This is a weird little film about friendship and the tests of time. Everyone eventually grows up and changes. For Buck he’s a little behind everyone else and audiences can only hope that his story ends on a permanent sugar high.

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