Thursday, April 24, 2014

Chuck & Buck


I  have to apologize to all of you little people out there in the dark for my absence from your lives over the last few weeks. I've been mourning the demise of Mother Teresa: The Musical which has been placed on indefinite hold. The production team has been invited on an all expense paid vacation to some tropical resort named Gotmo or Gitmo by a Mr. John Ashcroft following our teensy little accident at the preview with the pyrotechnic effects. I'm not quite sure why the department of justice has become so interested in our little project, but Fajer and Hellmann, my lawyers, have suggested that the wardrobe malfunction which caused St. Agnes to appear with her bosom undraped may have simply been too much for them. I really don't understand it; it's not as if the poor girl were a statue of justice or something.

I did numb my pain somewhat by agreeing to be a presenter on this year's academy awards. I was scheduled to do a rousing little tap number saluting sound effects editing through the years and had Bob Mackie run me up a stylish little frock in red, white and blue sequins based on the Liberian flag. I was all dressed and coiffed and waiting in the wings to go on when suddenly Blake Edwards came zooming through a wall on a motorized wheelchair that was completely out of control and ran over my left foot, fracturing one of my metatarsals. Blake has never quite forgiven me for turning down the part of Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies all those years ago but I was not going to wear that trench coat on screen. Anyway, I was in such pain, that the number had to be scrubbed and I spent the rest of the evening at Cedars Sinai in consultation with my podiatrist.

I'm glad to report that I've recovered, and am nursing my wounds here at Chateau Maine with Normy. As I had little better to do, I wandered into the luxurious home theater to see what Netflix had sent me this month and found the DVD for Mike White's little independent film, Chuck & Buck waiting for me. I had heard something about it in 2000, when it was first released, but had not actually seen the film so I popped it into the player and settled back with a pitcher of daiquiris to enjoy the show. Unfortunately, it was not really the kind of film that can be truly enjoyed. It has far too many disturbing undercurrents.

The titular Chuck and Buck are childhood pals, now grown men in their late twenties. Chuck (Chris Weitz, best known as one of the team behind the American Pie films), has moved to LA where he's a player in the entertainment business. Buck (Mike White, who also wrote the screenplay), is a serious case of arrested development who still acts as if he's ten years old. When Buck's remaining parent dies after a long illness, he decides to take his inheritance, move to LA and try to re-establish the old friendship along a similar dynamic as they had as children and young adolescents, including the sexual component. Chuck, now engaged to be married to Carly (Beth Colt in a truly thankless role), is less than thrilled by Buck's re-emergence and his apparent wish to turn the clock back to age twelve. As the film progresses, however, it becomes clear that there's pathology on both sides of the duo.

Buck, stung by Chuck's rejection, decides to work out his inner demons by writing and staging a play as a thinly disguised allegory of the relationship. He stumbles across a children's theater company and persuades, with the help of his cash, the house manager (the wonderful Lupe Ontiveros) to produce and direct it for him. He even finds a Chuck look alike (Paul Weitz, Chris Weitz's brother) to play that role and soon there's an imbroglio of psychosexual tension consuming most of the major characters. There are relatively unexpected couplings and, by the end of the film, both Chuck and Buck are moving on in their own ways.

The film succeeds on the strength of the writing and Mike White's brave performance as Buck. Our first impressions of this peculiar little boy man are that he's completely pathologic but, as the plot unfolds, we start to realize that he's much more the victim than the user. That honor goes to Chuck who has always been the aggressor - in fact, it's those instincts that have allowed him to be successful in his career. Given White's own rather peculiar family life (his father, Mel White, was Jerry Falwell's speech writer for many years before coming out as a gay man and leaving his family - he now runs the organization Soulforce), one can see how he would be interested in exploring these themes of childhood sexual secrets and their effects on adults. These same themes, however, make the film a bit of a discomforting experience as it forces the viewer to think about such things as the sex life of children and maybe even some of their own past which our culture teaches us are not to be thought about or discussed.

The other major highlight is Lupe Ontiveros as the no nonsense director of the play. Ms. Ontiveros will be immediately recognizable to all. She's been playing bit parts as Hispanic maids in major Hollywood productions for decades (she's on the receiving end of Jack Nicholson's famous rant in As Good As It Gets and Corey Feldman's practical jokes in The Goonies, for instance). It's nice to see this talented actress finally given a chance to create a fully realized character.

The film was directed by Miguel Arteta, who first made his mark with Star Maps a few years previous. That film also explored the seamier side of friendship and family life. He and Mike White and various other members of the cast and crew have gathered together as a bit of a mutually supporting film repertory company. Their most recent project being the Jennifer Anniston film, The Good Girl and with bigger budgets, they're likely to have some very good work coming out in the future. This film was made on a shoestring. They hide that as much as they can, but it still shows from time to time.

The DVD contains the film and two commentary tracks, one with Arteta and White and one with two of their regular film technicians, commenting more on the actual problems of shooting a low budget film on location. As they filmed on high definition video, they could engage in a good deal of guerilla work on the streets. There are some deleted scenes, none of which would have added much to the final product.

It's a film that made me think, made me squirm from time to time, and that succeeds on its own terms. It's not a fully realized success (both Weitz brothers, though pretty, should remain behind the camera) but is a reasonable outlet for fertile talents.

Annoying kid's pop record. Blow pops. Funeral drinking. Gratuitous 'Wizard of Oz' references. Firecracker detonation. Legal tablet scribbling. Seedy motel sex. Bad suit. Pretentious entertainment party.

No comments:

Post a Comment