DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
CHUCK AND BUCK (director: Miguel Arteta; screenwriter: Mike White; cinematographer: Chuy Chavez; editor: Jeff  Betancourt; cast: Mike White (Buck), Chris Weitz (Chuck), Lupe Ontiveros (Beverly), Beth Colt (Carlyn), Maya Rudolph (Jamila), Paul Weitz (Sam), Gino Buccola (Tommy); Runtime: 95; Artisan Entertainment; 2000)

 
"It is about someone who is desperate to find someone to love him, more than it is about homosexuality."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Shot almost entirely on digital video with a hand-held camera, Miguel Arteta's (Star Maps) Chuck and Buck is an arresting homo-erotic tale about the pangs of growing up while still stuck emotionally at an adolescent stage. It is about someone who is desperate to find someone to love him, more than it is about homosexuality. It features screenwriter Mike White as the mentally unbalanced Buck and Chris Weitz as Chuck, the unwanted receiver of Buck's affection.

Buck's mother suddenly dies while having a coughing attack and the 27-year-old, who has lived his entire life in his mother's house, sends a letter to his best friend Chuck from childhood days who moved a long-time ago to Los Angeles, playing on his sympathies as he lures him to the funeral. Chuck is now a high-powered successful executive for showbiz music personalities (it looks like a role Tom Cruise would play) and is engaged to the attractive and congenial Carlyn (Colt). Buck is more happy to see Chuck than he is sad that his mother is dead as he longingly smiles at Chuck with his frozen dead-pan look, refusing to recognize that Chuck has changed and is called now by his adult name Charlie.

Invited into Buck's room which is filled with childhood toys, the same toys he played with as a kid, Chuck realizes that Buck has not developed from childhood. Making excuses to head back quickly to L.A., Chuck is suddenly grabbed in the crotch by Buck who is foolishly playing the same childhood homosexual games they played when they were eleven. Chuck rejects him but he doesn't communicate this with his fiancée who, in a socially correct move, invites Buck to L.A.. Chuck figures he will never leave his mother's house anyway but is startled when Buck calls to tell him he's coming to visit, as he spends the rest of the film trying to put him off with one excuse after another.

Buck is not someone who can take a hint so he goes to L.A., anyway, and moves into a motel with all his childhood toys, smiles nervously while leering at Chuck, sucks lollipops constantly and is dealt with in an icy manner by the self-inflated executive who is being stalked and is receiving a barrage of unwanted calls by his disturbed friend. Chuck never knows quite how to handle him, and so Buck continues to relentlessly pursue him (it seemed odd that a person in Chuck's position wouldn't know how to ditch someone).

Buck hangs around L.A. stalking Chuck to no avail but he finds a little fringe theater across the street from Chuck's office where he approaches Beverly (Lupe Ontiveros), the earthy children's theater house manager and tells her he wrote a children's play called "Frank & Hank" and asks her to direct it even though she has never directed a play before. She asks for $25 an hour and tells him it would take four weeks of rehearsals to put on this one performance play. These scenes are the heart of the film, as they bring out whatever brilliance there is to be found in the characterizations, depicting in an honest way how those who are not destined to live a conventional life behave with each other in a natural setting. The film allowed the supporting characters to interact with each other, not going for the cheap comedy it could have gone after by just making fun of Buck's tortured character.

Lupe Ontiveros brought an endearing and maternal warmth to the film; Sam (Paul Weitz, Chris' brother) tries out for the main part and gets it because he looks like Chuck, adding spice to the film. The supporting characters were not that much different from Buck as to their feelings of insecurity.

A gnawing flaw to this film is that it hits a dead spot, which comes after the play is presented. Through Buck's manipulations, he gets Carlyn to drag Chuck to see the play because she is curious about their childhood friendship. The thinly disguised autobiographical play, embarrasses Chuck. The film seemed to run out of steam at that point having exhausted itself of its underlying probe into the tormented soul of Buck, who is seen as a pathetic figure who is desperately in need of being touched by someone. He is someone who does not possess the social skills to relate with others. The film takes a few deep breathes and returns for a discerning conclusion, which was thoroughly credible and well-presented.

The relationships Buck makes that are endearing, are with Beverly and Sam. Beverly can relate to how messed up Buck is, thinking who isn't messed up in the world; therefore, even though, she thinks of him as a weirdo, he's a nice weirdo. Buck's relationship with the boorish Sam, a bad actor who is also a social outcast but of the heterosexual variety, is based on the need to be accepted they both have. After making a foolish sexual play for Sam, Buck is told to lay off that stuff and they'll get along fine, as he moves into the apartment next to Sam's. Sam figures Buck will never complain about the noise from the music he plays late at night like the last tenant, a woman who angrily moved out.

The film hits a raw nerve about childhood experiences and how they are perceived, and in the process tells a love story that is not restricted to homosexuality. A tremendous effort by the indie film-makers is realized to tell a moving character study, thereby achieving such a high-quality film on such a low-budget. It daringly rests its unsentimental case on such a thin plot and succeeds because its characterizations came to life. The effort to look at friendship and human behavior was an honest one. It is also a disarmingly funny movie.

REVIEWED ON 9/25/2000     GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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