Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Chuck and Buck

By Marjorie Baumgarten

JULY 24, 2000: 

D: Miguel Arteta; with Mike White, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz, Lupe Ontiveros, Beth Colt, Maya Rudolph. (R, 95 min.)

Chuck & Buck is the kind of movie that gets under your skin and takes root. It's a discomfiting sensation, much like the experience of watching the film ­ although Chuck & Buck is also amusing, astute, and technically intriguing. The story hinges on the reunion of two childhood friends, Chuck (Chris Weitz) and Buck (White, who also wrote the screenplay). Now adults, Chuck is a record executive in Los Angeles who lives with his fiancée and Buck, although 27 years old, lives with his mother in a state of arrested development. His mind still dwells on the same concerns and interests he had as a child. After Buck's mother dies during the film's opening sequence, this socially awkward man-child turns his attentions to Chuck, who shows up at the funeral. The attention swiftly turns into obsession, and here's where the story becomes ever more compelling. Chuck is torn by his obvious discomfort in dealing with his erstwhile playmate, yet constrained (by good manners, something from the past, or something indefinable) from refusing Buck's gestures. And although everyone treats Buck as though he were an innocent naif, the character also has a dark, icky side. A full plot description would make the story seem more convoluted than it really is. At heart, this is a small, intimate drama. The performances are startlingly believable and the strategy of shooting the film on hand-held digital video lends the story an immediacy that it might not have achieved otherwise. Director Arteta (Star Maps) has a unique feel for disconjunctive modern melodrama. The actors are for the most part nonprofessionals, and even more curiously are employed primarily as writers. Screenwriter and co-star Mike White has also written and produced numerous episodes of Dawson's Creek and Freaks and Geeks. The other co-star, Chris Weitz, is also half of the writing and directing team (with brother Paul, who also appears in Chuck & Buck as an actor thinly disguised as Chuck performing in a play called Hank & Frank written by Buck) responsible for writing and directing American Pie and writing Antz and the upcoming Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. Oddly, these writers succeed in their parts, and any awkwardness they display becomes part of the characters' discomfiture. The professional actor among the group, Lupe Ontiveros (Selena, As Good as It Gets), is a true revelation. She runs a gamut of emotions as she too is swept into Buck's strange world. Chuck & Buck promises to be unlike any movie you've experienced before, although its uncharted waters may help explain the movie's dissipated ending, as though the filmmakers couldn't quite decide how to tie this thing up either. "Oodalee, oodalee, oodalee, oodalee/fun, fun, fun/ ... yeah," goes the bouncy chorus of Chuck & Buck'srecurring theme song (by Gwendolyn Sanford ­ the movie also gets bonus points for including Jonathan Richman's "Astral Plane" in its soundtrack). "Oodalee, oodalee, oodalee, oodalee/fun, fun, fun/ ... yeah." I can't say it better than that.

4 Stars

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