Written by, and starring Mike White (School of Rock) and directed by Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl, Cedar Rapids), Chuck & Buck is a weird little underrated indie-film about obsession, friendship and coming to terms with the inevitable, and it’s one that I have been fond of for quite some time.
Mike White plays Buck O’Brien, a naïve man-child who has never really moved on since his childhood, holding a fondness, as an adult, to things he should have let-go of many years before. He has games and toys littering his boyish bedroom, and acts in a way reminiscent of that of a kid with a lack of control over his compulsive nature. When Buck’s mother passes away, the 27 year-old puts his emotional distress into reconnecting with his childhood friend, Chuck (Chris Weitz). Chuck has grown up, forged a career and moved on from his past, a past that once included the friendship with Buck. After tracking Chuck down, Buck invites his old pal to his mother’s funeral before reminding Chuck of their sexual-past. Chuck, now in a heterosexual relationship with his fiancée, attempts to avoid the forceful reintroduction of Buck into his life, but when Buck moves to LA, close to where Chuck resides, the two embark on a curious friendship and relationship that is funny, weird, and sad in equal measure.
It is a strange film in the best possible way. Creative and crafted with love, it is refreshing that the homosexual nature of Buck is not approached as an issue by the filmmakers, or the characters, but it is rather the obsessive and often aggressive attitude of the infantile Buck as he forces himself onto Chuck, that becomes the issue, the problem, and that in itself is a wonderful thing to see. Mike White, as Buck, is excellent. His portrayal of heart-breaking fixation while being shot-down, time after time, is done with such heart that you cannot help but feel for him and want him to find some comfort and closure in his life that would allow him to move on to bigger and better things. Weitz, as Chuck, is equally as excellent in his performance. Angered, overcome and agitated by the re-emergence of Buck, we can connect with him too, imagining what it might be like if this were to happen to us, to have to deal with someone who is so obviously dealing with some very mismanaged problems. Lupe Ontiveros, as Beverly Franco, is also a joy to watch, and other cast members, such as Maya Rudolph, Paul Weitz and Paul Sand, as Jamilla, Sam and Barry, are excellent too. It’s a cast that use their subtlety to create a wonderful snapshot of life and the experiences of both Chuck and Buck.
One of the major plot-points in the film is the decision of Buck to write a play as a way to express his feelings about his friendship with Chuck and the problems he is encountering. With the assistance of Beverly Franco (Ontiveros), the play happens, and it is a wonderful moment. I found this dark, disturbing but hilarious part of the film to be the standout moment, and Chuck’s reactions as he watched from the audience is brilliant. It’s written beautifully, played out with vibrancy, and feels so different to literally anything else I have ever seen. Fourteen years on, it is still one of a kind, a special stand-alone piece of cinema that has never been replicated, and surely can’t be. A low-budget film, it almost feels like a fly-on-the-wall movie, a hand-held look into the lives of these two people, these people who are finding some semblance of therapy in their new-found interactions with each other.
I am aware that this film isn’t for everyone, and in my time of recommending this to people I have had about a 50/50 response, but for me I find it to be a truly original and exceptional flick, with brilliant casting, writing, direction and performances. Mike White has never impressed me like he did here, and for those curious about what “the blonde guy from School of Rock who lets Jack Black live with him” did before, check this gemstone out. You might love it.