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when the bubble pops
on 7 August 2013
Chuck and Buck doesn't seem to register much these days, just 13 years after it was released, but it is an outstanding film on a strange and not very popular theme. Following the death of his mother, Buck, aged 27, becomes obsessed with his childhood friend with whom he had some sexual experiences when they were 11, and starts to stalk him, relocating to Los Angeles where Chuck is a mover in the record industry with a beautiful fiancee (Carlyn) and swanky house. The film shows someone with a kind of arrested development, still very attached to toys, who pushes to the limit the tolerance of two very sympathetic young people. At the same time Buck writes a play and has it performed at a fringe theatre, directed by a very likeable Puerto-Rican woman called Beverly. It tells the story of this friendship, of course, and turns out to be quite terrible and badly acted, as we expect. However it does help Buck to get somewhere psychologically, and, as Chuck attends thanks to Carlyn's pushing him into it, serves to stir feelings about the past, and present insecurities. Up to this point much of it has been a comedy of embarrassment, making you feel it quite acutely as you sit watching it.
Things do come to a head with Chuck actually agreeing to spend a night with Buck, during which it becomes clear that this intimacy has left a mark on him after all, even though he has moved on in the normal way. Prior to this Buck had spoken to Carlyn in a way that lost our sympathy, where up to that point this feeling had been maintained by the excellent acting of Mike White (who also wrote the screenplay). This balance must have been very difficult to bring off, because there is something creepy about the character, and his blinkered vision is not without its offputting aspect. It needs to keep us on a knife-edge, and effectively does, so that we are genuinely moved when he cries on Beverly's shoulder having realised "there is no love left for me any more". It's a poignant moment, but there is an upswing at the couple's wedding, which we see amid shots of wedding cake sponge being cut in close-up. It remains true to its childlike surface right to the end, with a matching indie soundtrack. Indeed you feel director Miguel Arteta is a generous spirit, prepared to admit certain ambiguities in the situation in that all our past selves still have some claim over us, and that this weighs more with some people than others. The nature of our relation to our pubescent self is what the film explores, essentially with great kindness towards its unusual and possibly autistic central character.