Chuck & Buck
review by
Elias Savada, 7 July 2000

Childhood innocence, homo-erotic fantasies, and an endless flow of suck-em stand-in blow-pops all have their beguiling, unsettling moments in the bittersweet babe in the Hollywoods dramedy Chuck and Buck, Miguel Arteta’s second feature (after his angry 1997 Star Maps). A Sundance favorite earlier this year (his debut feature also was screened there in 1997 as part of the American Spectrum sidebar), this is one of the summer’s better indie efforts. I was wondering if the distributor might re-title it Artisan’s The Kid as a edgy, goofy nod to the latest Bruce Willis ego bomb (both deal with similar deficiencies, tackled differently), but the last thing you want are Disney's legal thugs breathing down your neck. 

Geeky, gangly Buck O’Brien does plenty enough to make you squirm/laugh anyway as a pale-skinned Peter Pan, a freckled, red-haired mama’s boy who won’t grow up until he can find middle ground with Chuck, his once and only childhood friend who moved away to Neverland fifteen years earlier and cut off all contact with his former best bud. Flipping the coin, we realize that moving or running away to La-La Land hasn’t made the handsome, driven Chuck the better man. Sure he looks normal, rechristened as Charlie Sitter, but he’s hiding his own hang-ups—locked away in repressed memories and covered like a frayed bear rug with a fiancée, BMW, and martini fast life as a big shot record executive. When the pair are first reunited at Buck’s mother’s funeral, the floodgates of denial start to crack. The emotional dam eventual breaks when the newly orphaned, vexatious man-child latches on to an offhand remark by Charlie’s sweetheart and packs up his cherished smiley pencils, vinyl records, and toy soldiers before heading west to fixate up close on you know who.

Shot on digital video, the picture has a home movie style that adds to the realistic feel of the story by Mike White, generally known as a former producer and writer for Dawson’s Creek and the critically acclaimed but axed by NBC series Freaks and Geeks (Ah, now this is starting to make sense!). Although White had a small part in Star Maps, Arteta’s decision that he take on the demanding role of Buck (and actually imbue it with the strange, creepy sensitivity with which he created it), is truly inspired. It’s a wacky character that reminded me, obliquely, of the owlish Bud Cort character in Robert Altman’s Brewster McCloud some thirty years ago. Indeed, the fascinating thing about the whole project is the production talent that appears in front of the camera, fresh faces and cautious "actors" that make their characters seem as psychologically scary/afraid as they apparently are before the camcorder. The role of Chuck/Charlie was given to Chris Weitz, co-director with brother Paul of American Pie. Paul also appears as Sam, an obviously sub-standard actor, but chosen by Buck because of his passing similarity to Chuck for a lead in Hank and Frank, Buck’s autobiographical, childish play-within-the-movie that has more than a passing resemblance to his failed fairytale relationship. The misogynist allegory deepens when Buck’s after-rehearsal advances on Sam are rebuffed. Charlie’s comely girl friend Carlyn is Beth Colt, a film producer and talent manager. Oh, yes, there are real actors in the cast, too. Best of the lot is poignant Lupe Onteveros (the nosy neighbor in As Good As It Gets) as a weary theater manager given her big break and a honest-felt dose of self confidence directing Buck’s play.

When the one-night-only amateur theatrical begins on a stage across the street from Charlie’s office (it also offers our "hero" an convenient surveillance post to plot his entrance back into Chuck’s life), Buck only cares how Charlie and Carlyn react (Hamlet anyone?). The full-blown obsession ultimately ends with an uneasy late-night truce and a retreat into childhood memories and the possibility that both men finally will get on with their lives -- one hopes.

Director of Photography Chuy Chavez’s garish colors at Buck’s Little Prince Motel, viewed through the steam wafting from Buck’s vaporizer, and "God knows why I’m humming this" bubble-gum music score ("Ooodly ooodley ooodley, fun, fun, fun") by Joey Waronker, Tony Maxwell, and Smokey Hormel add to the uneasy giddiness of the film, balancing the gamut between American Psycho and The Wizard of Oz. School’s out. Life’s on. Yipes.

Directed by:
Miguel Arteta

Mike White
Chris Weitz
Lupe Ontiveros
Beth Colt
Paul Weitz
Maya Rudolph
Mary Wigmore
Paul Sand
Gino Buccola

Written by:
Mike White




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