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October 29, 2014

Chuck & Buck

by Franz Patrick


Chuck & Buck (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★

Charlie (Chris Weitz) receives a letter informing him that his childhood best friend’s mother has passed away. Even though Charlie has not seen Buck (Mike White) for over fifteen years, Charlie, along with his fiancée, Carlyn (Beth Colt), attends the funeral out of respect. However, things turns awkward very quickly when Buck, who seems fixated on acting like a child, gropes Chuck in the restroom sexually when the latter offers an embrace of comfort.

Written by Mike White, it is difficult what to make of “Chuck & Buck” because although humor runs through its veins, it is highly likely that the events that are happening are rooted in a childhood sexual trauma so intense, one of its participants does not know how to make sense of it and therefore unable to make a life for himself. It is easy and convenient to label Buck as weirdo, a walking request for a restraining order. After all, who withdraws all of his money, uproots his life, moves to Los Angeles, and lives in a motel just so he can spy on and stalk someone he believes to be his best friend?

White fits the role like a glove because his natural appearance of vulnerability balances nicely with his character’s occasional off-kilter behavior. And while there are times when I was scared for Chuck and Caryln’s safety, at the same time I could not help but care about Buck. I was concerned for him not because he acts like a child or he is deserving of pity but due to the fact that during a handful of scenes, we have a chance to understand that he means well.

Since his actions are almost always determined by patterns, the wrong person might stumble upon what he is up to, make a cursory judgment, and take action without the necessary background information. Partly, we wait for this character to be sent to jail or left for dead in a ditch.

Eventually, Buck decides to write and put on a play, in a theater directly in front of Chuck’s workplace, with hopes that the images will trigger Chuck’s memory and inspire him to want to be around Buck like when they were eleven years old. Buck hires Beverly (Lupe Ontiveros), the theater attendant, to cast and direct his play. Their relationship is arguably the heart of the picture. It is expertly executed because even though Beverly is initially motivated by good pay, a series of small but important scenes allow us to feel her passion for the work as well as the person who put the material on paper.

I appreciated that Buck and Beverly’s interactions are able to reach a fluidity and realism to them as would two strangers who want to get to know each other further for the positive things they can offer to one another. Conversely, the scenes that Buck and Carlyn share could have had more depth. While Caryln is likable, admirable even, because of her patience, there are times when I was bored by her. It seems like the script does not want her to come off as “mean.” But there is a difference between mean and practical. If someone keeps calling your phone every fifteen minutes and when you answer, he just hangs up, wouldn’t you feel compelled to alert the proper authorities?

“Chuck & Buck,” directed by Miguel Arteta, is ultimately about healing. It feels genuine because it is unafraid to shed light on the ugliness that one must to go through to take a step forward toward self-esteem and security. It is an uncomfortable experience at times but sometimes so is the struggle in moving on.

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