I haven’t misjudged a film based on initial appearances this badly since a group of friends and I sat down, with burgeoning hangovers knocking at the door, to watch the presumed soft-core film Hard Candy (2005). The 2000 winner of the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes award, Chuck and Buck, creates a unique film out of what appears to be a formulaic plot i.e. childhood friends are reunited, they’re both different now, how can they overcome this and become friends again. Miguel Arteta has produced a film that manages to be perverse, creepy and touching in almost equal measures.
Buck, played by the film’s writer Mike White, is living in perpetual childhood with his Mother when she suddenly dies. This gives Buck a chance to reunite with Chuck (Chris Weitz), an old childhood friend who is now a successful record executive. Buck follows Chuck back to L.A. where Chuck lives with his fiancée, Carlyn (Beth Colt). Chuck, seeing that Buck has not changed from childhood is reluctant to spend any time with him. Buck, attempting to change Chuck’s mind, puts on a play about their relationship. The film turns from quirky indy comedy to strange psychological drama when it is revealed that Chuck and Buck were fond of sexual experimentation as children before Chuck’s family moved leaving Buck lost and emotionally ruined. Any semblance of innocence is destroyed when Buck reminds Chuck of their childhood game “ Chuck and Buck’s Suck and Fuck”. The change in tone is jarring with the early scenes of the film which set up Buck as a child trapped in an adult body (although one with a fondness for rum and coke) but Buck continues to be Buck and approaches his reunion with Chuck with childish naivety. Buck needs to grow up but he cannot find a way to do so with out some sort of physical reunion with Chuck.
Chuck, apparently settled in his adult life, rejects Buck’s and the discomfort that follows is the driving force behind the film’s main theme. Buck remains determined in the face of Chuck’s continual rejection. When Chuck makes excuses so that Buck can’t come to visit, Buck moves to L.A. and stalks Chuck. When Chuck appears uninterested in talking to Buck at a party, Buck begins to harass Chuck at the office. When Chuck breaks off all contact with Buck, Buck stages a play about their relationship and invites Chuck as the guest of honour in an attempt to win him over. It is in these actions that the complexity of Buck lies. The audience can see that he is not functioning as a rational adult, almost to the point of being insane, but Buck’s actions, however creepy or strange, come from such a good place that it is hard not to root for him. The extremity of the central relationship is used to highlight not only the awkwardness of meeting ex-lovers but also, more importantly, facing up to nostalgia and embarrassing childhood memories in adult life. The home video-like quality of the picture, one of the first to use digital recording methods, also adds to impression of a personal history being explored. Chuck and Buck is a highly recommendable film .
If you can get past the awkward close-ups and unusual subject matter then an enjoyable, if perhaps uncomfortable hour and a half awaits. Although billed as a comedy the film has few comedic moments but the shortness of laughs is made up for with a unique film that manages to hold the attention and provide some thought-provoking subject matter in the constraints of a much more straightforward film. A great film to kick off my exploration of Poundland’s films but one that makes me think that it maybe sets the bar a little too high for subsequent films.
Running Time: 91 mins
Rating : 15
Special Features: None