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'Chuck & Buck'

'Chuck & Buck' is a fascinating look at a kid who won't grow up

Friday, August 11, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Buck (Mike White) is 27 years old, but he still dresses and acts and thinks like an 11-year-old.

'Chuck & Buck'

RATING: R for sexuality and language

STARRING: Mike White, Chris Weitz

DIRECTOR: Miguel Arteta

WEB SITE: www.chuckn

CRITIC'S CALL: 2 1/2 stars


He's addicted to sweets -- lollipops, chewing gum, Coke -- and he wears the sort of T-shirts you might find in the boys' department and his room looks like it was preserved in amber. It's not that he's a vintage toy collector; it's that he never abandoned the playthings of his youth. Or, for that matter, his youth.

"Chuck & Buck" opens with the sort of event that usually vaults people into adulthood: the death of a parent. Not so with Buck. He invites his one-time best friend, Chuck (Chris Weitz), to the funeral.

Chuck, who now goes by the name Charlie and is a successful music promoter in Los Angeles, arrives with his fiancee, Carlyn (Beth Colt). Seeing the men together, it's even more evident what a misfit Buck is.

The geeky Buck, wearing a photo button of his late mother, tells his boyhood pal: "I'm glad you could make it. You know, I think about you all the time -- us as kids." In the parlance of 11-year-olds, that's the emotional equivalent of: "Danger, Will Robinson, danger." If that weren't enough, Buck makes an unwanted sexual advance toward Charlie.

A sympathetic Carlyn innocently suggests that Buck should visit L.A. Despite a polite rebuff from Charlie, Buck packs up his belongings and moves to the Little Prince Motel in L.A. where he tries to reconnect with Charlie. Or to stalk him, depending on your point of view and police training.

Buck, as you can tell, has issues. With his sexuality, his unwillingness to grow up, his inability to connect with anyone for the past 15 years.

He decides to write a transparent and hilariously bad play, borrowing liberally from "The Wizard of Oz" and his own life. The film builds to a confrontation between the two men about the nature of their long-ago friendship and whether it should -- or could -- be rekindled.

Mike White, who also wrote the screenplay, does an amazing job as Buck. He makes him, on the page and on the screen, a figure who is alternately sad, pitiful, freaky, creepy, obsessive, relentless and resigned. He nails the details of Buck's life: his grade-school penchant for making collages, his devotion to Matchbox cars and record albums, his inability to read social cues.

He was a producer-writer for "Freaks and Geeks" and "Dawson's Creek," and he says he was "tired of writing about people who are too wonderful to exist." He clearly identified more with the misfits in the former rather than the hotties in the latter.

In the movie's press notes, White said the two leading characters can be seen as half of a single being. "I think there's this constant inner struggle between the person we would like to be -- handsome, heroic, capable -- and the person that deep down we are afraid we really are -- needy, vulnerable, lost. ...

"Chuck is the face we want to show to the world. Buck is his shadow that won't go away, that is insistently rapping at the window and saying, 'Remember me?' "

Director Miguel Arteta ("Star Maps") shot the movie using digital video, which lends an intimacy to the story and almost makes you think you're watching a home video. Buck's inability or unwillingness to recognize acceptable behavior gives it an undercurrent of suspense; is someone going to end up getting hurt or killed or fired or with his head in a box?

Still, I thought the ending of "Chuck & Buck" was unrealistic, given what had come before. And don't be misled by all the talk about childlike behavior; Buck sometimes spikes his Coke with rum and isn't afraid to whisper certain R-rated words that rhyme with his name.

White is on a hot streak in Hollywood. Variety reported he has signed a series development deal that will let him create and executive produce at least two pilots. He may look like a Buck, but in real life, he's closer to a Chuck.

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