DUMPING YOUR FRIENDS is an essential part of growing up, of distancing yourself from childhood and establishing an adult identity. At least that's the way it's worked for Charlie (Chris Weitz), a self-satisfied young LA music industry exec with a nice BMW, fancy house, and pretty fianc饮 So he's unsettled—heck, we're unsettled—to discover that his long-forgotten childhood pal Buck (Mike White) has a crush on him. Buck eagerly and inappropriately reestablishes their connection at his own mother's funeral. Time has stood still in his suburban home, with its Brady Bunch furnishings and vintage answering machine. He's an arrested man-child, a 27-year-old orphan going on 12 who's apparently never been through adolescence.
CHUCK & BUCK
directed by Miguel Arteta
with Mike White, Chris Weitz, and Paul Weitz
opens July 21 at Broadway Market
While Buck has remained in a kind of emotional chrysalis—true to himself— Charlie's put on the same mask of adult propriety we all wear. "He's not a very sentimental guy," says his fianc饠(Beth Colt), not wanting to know precisely what feelings Charlie is repressing inside. Charlie doesn't want to know either and tries hard to avoid Buck, who soon moves to LA to begin stalking his old buddy.
Yet when it seems the movie's headed into Fatal Attraction territory, it fools you, thanks to the risk-taking script of Mike White and the evenhanded direction of Miguel Arteta. White, a TV writer for shows including Dawson's Creek and Freaks and Geeks, turns his character into a writer who stages an amusingly awful play as love offering and cautionary lesson to Charlie. The title? Hank & Frank. It's directed at a children's theater by Beverly (the wise, funny Lupe Ontiveros), who becomes a kind of surrogate mother to Buck. In a coup of casting, the dim-witted actor playing the Charlie character is portrayed by Paul Weitz, the look-alike brother and writing partner of Chris Weitz (together responsible for American Pie).
Though redundant and dramatically thin in several patches, Chuck & Buck offers a remarkably surprising mix of nervous laughter and offhand pathos. The low-budget digital video feature doesn't look like much, but it's less concerned with style than one particular idea: "People don't change," the naive Buck protests. It's a childish misconception, yet also truthful, as Charlie and Buck learn. Both are in denial, but the film refuses to follow the normal rules of tragedy or romance to resolve its plot.
INSTEAD, THE INTENTION is to show how Chuck and Buck are both dysfunctional, director Miguel Arteta explained while in town for SIFF last month. "[T]hey're like two sides of a personality," he continued, but "they're trying to find ways to fix themselves." To make his creepy protagonist more sympathetic, the earnest, soft-spoken director recalled, "I tried to put myself in the shoes of Buck." Significantly, Arteta elaborated, Buck gradually attains an adult sense of connection to people through his involvement with the theater, which channels his unhinged yearnings into a creative outlet.
With its refusal to embrace stereotypes and its generosity toward initially unsympathetic characters, Chuck & Buck certainly isn't your typical Hollywood creation. Shooting with cheap, noncumbersome digital video "puts the emphasis on the performances," Arteta noted, "rather than the process of recording them. It's a great tool for indie filmmaking if you have a character-driven story."
Like his 1997 film Star Maps, Chuck & Buck addresses the outsider's eternal question of "How do I fit in?" said Arteta. That process of discovery leads in unexpected directions for both Charlie and Buck; yet this provocative, engrossing movie shows how attachments can be broken without violence, then reformed in uneasy peace. This stands in contrast to the usual multiplex fare, Arteta observed: "Whenever you see obsession in a Hollywood film, it ends up in suicide or homicide."