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Chuck & Buck

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"I think about you all the time--us as kids and stuff."

That's Buck talking to Chuck in Chuck & Buck, a buddy film that dares to go where no buddy film has gone before. Chuck and Buck are best friends. At least, they used to be best friends. Then they grew up. That is, one of them grew up--Chuck, who's now a record-company executive in L.A. As for Buck, he's stuck in childhood, 27 going on 11. And, as played by Mike White, who also wrote the script, he's a bit of a sociopath, Peter Pan crossed with Dennis the Menace. When the movie opens, Buck's mother has just died, and Buck takes the opportunity to invite Chuck home for the funeral, both for old times' sake and, Buck hopes, for new times' sake. Which is why he gropes Chuck in the bathroom when Chuck delivers a consolatory hug. You see, Buck's never gotten over the sexual experimentation he and Chuck once engaged in, which may explain why he spends the entire movie sucking on lollipops.

Or may not. Chuck & Buck doesn't try very hard to explain why Buck's the way he is, just shines a light so we can get a good look at him. And look we do. His skin a lighter shade of pale, and with all the color in his eyebrows and eyelashes bleached away, White looks like a newborn mouse--all but transparent. (Think of Sissy Spacek without the makeup...or the chin.) He may be the least photogenic lead actor ever, and he doesn't exactly sweeten the deal with his performance. It's admirably restrained, a perfect impersonation of an 11-year-old who, socially if not emotionally, may not be altogether there. To appreciate what White's done, you only have to remember two other actors in similar roles: Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man and Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. Both forged a path to the Academy Awards over our heartstrings. I'm going to go out on a limb and make my first Oscar prediction for next year: White won't win.

Nor should he, perhaps, given that the performance is dead-on but not very illuminating. White and director Miguel Arteta might have opened up the character a little more, let us see inside his head. Then again, what would we see? An old photograph of Chuck? There's a sense, while watching Chuck & Buck, that the movie itself hasn't grown up, that it's reluctant to take responsibility for Buck's actions. Even before Chuck stops taking Buck's phone calls, Buck's been stalking him. He's moved to Los Angeles and assumed positions across the street from where Chuck works and in the bushes outside Chuck's home. Still, the movie pulls for Buck, going so far as to suggest that, if Buck has some growing up to do, Chuck may have some growing down to do. Despite Chris Weitz's lackluster performance, we see that Chuck has left a valuable part of himself back in the 11-year-old Buck's arms.

Which is to say, Buck's all inner child and Chuck's all outer adult. And the fascinating thing about Chuck & Buck is that it doesn't neuter Buck's inner child. In man/ child-as-stalker movies like What About Bob? and The Cable Guy, arrested development is given a homoerotic sheen but only a sheen. Chuck & Buck (like Todd Solondz's strangely similar Happiness) has the courage of its own convictions; it allows Buck to pursue his longings to their logical or illogical conclusion. It isn't a very polished movie; shot on video, it's both blurry and fuzzy. But this too seems in keeping with its main character being unable to give up his childish ways. Of course, how could he give up his childish ways when the soundtrack is periodically breaking into this insidiously catchy tune that, with a nod in the general direction of Pee-wee Herman, promises us "oodily, oodily, oodily, oodily, oodily, oodily fun, fun, fun...yeah."

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