Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Freaky (in a good way)

Posted By on Wed, Jul 19, 2000 at 12:00 AM

If Disney’s The Kid was all about the positive aspects of coming face-to-face with a nearly forgotten childhood, then Chuck & Buck is its evil twin. This creepy cautionary tale about Charlie Sitter (Chris Weitz), an up-and coming music business executive in Los Angeles who finds himself being stalked by Buck O’Brien (Mike White), his best friend from childhood, is also strangely compelling because of the seemingly artless central performances from nonactors and the way director Miguel Arteta (Star Maps) has used digital video to give this film the striking intimacy of a home movie.

They were once the inseparable duo Chuck and Buck, but while Charlie has moved comfortably into adulthood, which includes a stylish, well-appointed abode and an equally appealing fiancee, Carlyn (Beth Colt), Buck is a bizarre case of arrested development. While his exterior shows a 27-year-old man who can drive and keep a bank account, Buck has the mind and emotional capacity of an 11-year-old boy, one who’s never gotten over his first love, namely Chuck.

Buck can’t see the subtext of his actions, particularly when he writes a play titled Hank & Frank, which casts his real-life friendship (and subsequent rejection by the object of his obsession) as a fairy tale about lost innocence and recaptured love.

Incessantly sucking on Blow Pops in his toy-littered room, Buck’s a scary figure in a very primal way: His child’s-eye view means he doesn’t know how to cloak or contain desire, and he’s not mature enough to know he must accept responsibility for his actions.

Yet White (who also wrote the screenplay) beautifully brings him to the cusp of awareness. The staging of Buck’s play brings a few vital characters into the mix, namely house manager-turned-director Beverly (Lupe Ontiveros), a maternal figure with a no-nonsense attitude towards life, and the crude, lewd and completely inept actor, Sam (Paul Weitz), who serves as Charlie’s dopplegänger.

The Weitz brothers produced and directed American Pie, while White is a screenwriter as well as producer of "Freaks and Geeks," yet they bring a wholly different sensibility to Chuck & Buck, which is all about slicing through Hollywood artifice.

Director Arteta, who’s an expert at finding the humanity in seemingly irredeemable characters, touches more than a few raw nerves, and he taps into the characters’ memories through dreamlike footage of young boys and the repeated use of an insidiously catchy kiddie pop ditty.

Chuck & Buck is the kind of movie which truly gets under your skin because it doesn’t establish the usual cinematic distance between the audience and this bizarre man/child. It may freak people out, but it’s never a freak show.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com.

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