It used to bother me that I never had a fuck buddy as a child, if only because I seemed to be in such a small minority. Lately, it seemed I couldn’t even go to a barbecue without some guy telling me about his old pal “Skippy.” It’s always the same story: two little scamps sneaking down to the fishing hole, undoing each other’s zippers, lying there under the whispering oak trees as the afternoon slipped by in tender diddling. Gay men get a misty look in their eyes when they relive these pre-adolescent moments. This is their Eden before the fall, when boys could pleasure each other without worrying about society’s disapproval.
But now I have seen Chuck & Buck. And if, like me, you kept your hands to yourself as a child, this movie will make you glad you did.
Chuck & Buck, directed by Miguel Arteta (Star Maps), is about what happens when surprise! your old fuck buddy reappears in your life. And an even bigger surprise he wants to pick things up right where you left off: the twin beds, the scratchy 45s, the cute sex-organ nicknames, the innocent late-night fumbling.
As played with uncanny conviction by Mike White (who also wrote the screenplay), Buck is the boy who never made it out of boyhood. He sleeps in the same bed, plays with the same toy cars and wears the same polyester-weave knit shirts and zippered draw-string cotton jackets. He even looks like a child, with his sunken, pale chest and toy-giraffe eyes. All he lacks are friends his own age, but when his mother coughs out her last bit of lung, who should come to pay respects at her funeral but Chuck, Buck’s old childhood love. It’s not quite the reunion Buck hoped for. In the fifteen years since his family moved away, Chuck (Chris Weitz) has become Charlie, a sharply dressed record producer with a personal assistant, a Hollywood Hills bungalow and a fiancée named Carlyn.
That doesn’t stop Buck from following Charlie to L.A. and laying siege, calling his old pal twice a day, inviting himself over to Charlie’s house, spying on him, sneaking into his office, and when that stops working, standing all day outside Charlie’s office building and staring up at Charlie’s window, brainstorming new ways to be with him anything, anything to bring back the days of what Buck, with reptilian coyness, describes to Charlie as “Chuck and Buck’s fuck-and-suck.”
I suppose, if one bent over backward far enough, one could see Buck’s behavior as the plucky antics of an orphaned waif, clinging tenaciously to the possibility of happiness. Most of us, though, are likely to conclude that Buck is a creep. Did I put that in lowercase letters? What I meant to say is: Buck is a C-R-E-E-P. From hell. And this makes Chuck & Buck an excruciating movie to watch, a ninety-three-minute-long cringe.
Which is not to say it’s a bad film White’s a fine actor, and Lupe Ontiveros offers a welcome oasis of sanity in a supporting role. But it is a confused film. Exactly what purpose is served by the mortification of a slack-jawed, socially retarded misfit? Mike White the screenwriter wants to redeem the repellent figure of Buck by turning him into an embodiment of our need for love, and the resulting message is not obnoxious but surprisingly sentimental: We must embrace our inner Buck or else end up like Charlie, cold, lifeless and well-tailored.
But Mike White the actor suggests something much uglier. His Buck conceals with a cretinous grin a deep-seated malice that comes from having a sexual episode he’ll never be able to relive. Buck doesn’t bring life. He brings a kind of death: the death of time, the death of the outside world, the death of everything but the love object. It’s the kind of love only a child could feel pure and unchanging and utterly possessive.
I don’t think Chuck & Buck ever resolves that divide, and maybe that’s why it’s so unsettling. I pretty much hated the movie while I was watching it. In my head, I was agreeing with The New Yorker‘s David Denby, who dismissed it recently as an apologia for stalkers. But then the movie itself began stalking me like Buck, it wouldn’t go away. I kept returning to something Buck asks Charlie during their final meeting: “Do you remember me?” And Charlie, after a long pause, says softly: “I remember you.” It’s as if remembering Buck is the key to remembering ourselves. Chuck & Buck plays on our collective fear of being punished for having the hubris to move on, to think we’ve left behind that creepy, needy eleven-year-old side of ourselves behind. If we forget Buck, we may worry, he’ll no doubt come back at our most frightening moment, pounding to be let back in.
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Image © 2000 Alexia C. Pilat Artisan Entertainment. All rights reserved.
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