Directed By Miguel Arteta
By: Eric G.
Buck is hapless. At twenty-seven he still lives with his mother who's been sick for years. She sits in a lazyboy and hacks up her guts while watching daytime talk shows. Buck's room is frozen in time- like that of a child who died at a young age and whose parents were too devastated to change a thing. With a sucker constantly in his mouth, Buck wears a mischievous expression- part innocence, part ignorance- that contradicts everything about your typical man of twenty-seven years. Something is clearly wrong with this picture, but we're given no explanation right away.
Buck's mother dies and he invites a childhood friend to the funeral. Chuck is Buck's hyperbolic opposite- he's successful and handsome and grounded, making it hard to imagine that these two were ever friends. He brings his fiancée with him to Buck's mother's funeral. The reunion of the two childhood friends is beyond awkward, and the director relishes in twisting the knife in our backs. Buck acts like an eleven-year-old kid while Chuck tries to be cordial and empathetic. Is Buck retarded? Socially, perhaps. Emotionally stunted- absolutely. It is painful to watch Buck's social retardation play out. He couldn't care less about his mother's death, despite the giant button on his lapel (a blown-up and unflattering picture of his mother). He's obviously only interested in seeing his long-lost friend again.
The reunion comes to a grinding halt when Buck walks into the bathroom where Chuck is relieving himself. Chuck exclaims an understandable "what the fuck, man" or something similar as Buck just smiles like he does this kind of thing everyday. Chuck continues to be polite- the discomfort of the situation notwithstanding. The tension and awkwardness of this scene makes your skin crawl much like a Todd Solondz film does. Buck rushes to embrace Chuck, and Chuck complies- not wanting to deny his old friend the polite amount of emotional support. But when Buck reaches for Chuck's ass…it's time to go. Chuck grabs his fiancée and bolts.
Seeing Chuck has triggered an obsessive reaction, and Buck moves to Los Angeles to be closer to his former friend. The rest of the film sleepwalks through all the stalker cliches. Despite all the overt and often disturbing signals (like Buck suggesting that they stick their dicks in each other's mouths: "Chuck and Buck…suck and fuck"), Chuck can't seem to shut the door completely on Buck. Why? Guilty conscience? Anybody else would have either called the police or beaten the shit out of this guy, but Chuck lays down the law verbally only to back down emotionally. It quickly becomes clear that we don't have the whole story.
Buck's suspended adolescence is a chore to watch at times. His child-like persona teeters on the brink of absurdity. Buck is not autistic or retarded or even dumb. His behavior is a reactionary state. He's stuck inside of his childhood, and Arteta is careful to get all the details right from the toys and his obsessive collage artwork to his Bert and Ernie shirts. What drove him so deeply into this unreality is certainly depressing but Miguel Arteta approaches the whole subject with an air of quirkiness. This is a light-hearted black comedy with a disturbing core. There are hilarious moments, as you'd expect from a low budget film as hyper-aware of itself as this one is, but the humor is understated. The climax is surreal but well within the parameters of Arteta's absurdist vision. As is the case with the bulk of experimental independent films, Chuck & Buck is a lot more fun to talk about than it is to watch.