by Greg Muskewitz
True, genuine surprises are generally absent from most modern movies. There are a plethora of artificial twist-and-turns like "Reindeer Games," "The Art of War," or inept dream revelations like "Fight Club" and "Boxing Helena." Sure, there are some rarities like "Wild Things," which, although twistier than a pretzel, it found itself mocking and paradying the undetectabke viccissitudes of the plot, while making it risible rather than ridiculous. When movie have a big secret from the audience, it's like they have hot pants --they just can't wait to take them off, or share what they've got. That's one of the main differences of Miguel Arteta's "Chuck & Buck" : it's ability to approach its subject matter with subtlty. (For discussion's sake, I will reveal some of the revelations, so you might want toskip certain sections.)Buck (Mike White) is a little strange, or in his words, "I'm not normal." It's never disclosed whether he's autistic or suffers from mental retardation, but that's just the beginning of his quirkiness. His mother died in a coughing fit, and the funeral he holds allows Buck to get back in touch with childhood best friend, Chuck (Chris Weitz) --now Charles. Buck has an obsession with him like that of the Greek's preoccupation with fish. Chuck has changed and grown up normally (juxtaposed against all of the toys and lollipops, et al, that Buck religiously totes around) and is engaged to Carlyn (Beth Colt).
"A real stunner."
Wanting to rekindle the buddyship, Buck is all over it. Chuck is open to it but becomes vexated by Buck's persistance. Spontaneously, Buck packs up his toys and drives out to Los Angeles to move close by. Carlyn is very accomadating towards Buck, but Chuck gives him the cold shoulder --he knows something we aren't privy to. And Buck, being no dummy, is very aware of the cold treatment, so he writes a play ("Frank & Hank," "a homoerotic, misogynistic love story" with a "'Waiting for Godot' littl duo") which confronts the angst, fear, and dilemma he's in. Gradually, Buck's behavior becomes too much (calling every 15-minutes and hanging up) until we learn that as children, the two sexually experimented on each other ("Chuck and Buck and suck and fuck"). Buck is "in love" with Chuck and angry that he has "become" normal. Buck is upset that he still remains, well, gay. ("He made me this way!")
Although maybe the idea of a past sexual situation may prevent this from being a shock (Buck grabbed his crotch at the funeral), the subtlty and restraint that's both produced iin the script, and carried out as the axiom by Arteta, is strongly noticeable. Obstenably, the strength lies in the screenplay, which was written by White, and the direction. It's challenging subject matter, and I like that. The performers also put a lot into the psyche of the characters. "Chuck & Buck" is the opposite of superficial, and because of that, it pushes that much more forward. The comedy is well scripted, but the drama becomes even more so poignant. As Buck must deal with realizing himself ("You have to let go; you need to create something new") and the self-discovery that comes along with it ("You have something weird with men. You have something weird with women.") the characters --not just Buck-- continue to develop strongly.
"Chuck & Buck" is audacious; it takes such challenging and unconventional issues and serves it up as a fresh piece of film. It's strays from nudity and violence, and just weaves an exaltatious tale. It couldn't have been any better of a surprise. There's a lot of depth to "Chuck & Buck," not just on a factual and knowledge-of-self basis, but of what is expected of specific people in our society; like when Buck, who's obviously not "all there," is told, "When you're around kids, you need to protect them. You're an adult." The sad thing is, what IS he expected to know, especially considering the paradoxial comment about him being an adult. Everything in his demeanor and deportment IS that of a child.
The only real disappointment comes near the end with Buck's procurement that, "There's no love for me. Not anymore." This truly is a sad moment, and the ending kind of wimps out on us. I almost wish (as a powerhouse sign) that Buck would have sacraficed himself, and ended up as a tragic hero. Who wants to be left alone in a world, unloved? Even though it would have left everything a bit sour, it would have been a powerful sacrafice and statement. I was not convinced by Beverly (Lupe Ontiveros, whose performance was right on mark) that he would find someone.
Aside from the fact that this is a blown up image of a videotape, and the grainy, distilled (yet still bright and catchy) cinematography, "Chuck & Buck" is something to be caught.Final Verdict: A
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originally posted: 09/17/00 07:52:50