In honor of Ingrid Goes West, Alamo Drafthouse is running a series of films picked by Ingrid director Matt Spicer called Tales of the Obsessed. You can check out the lineup and buy tickets here. And get your Ingrid Goes West tickets here!
I remember seeing Chuck and Buck in the theater back in 2000. I had to drive into Boston to see it, and what I knew of the movie was vague: an indie comedy about a man obsessed with his estranged childhood friend. Buck (Mike White, who wrote the screenplay) has a disturbing fixation on Chuck (Chris Weitz): all the trappings of a standard black comedy. But once it hits the reveal—that, as children, Chuck and Buck had a sexual relationship with each other—the film takes a hard turn out of comedic and into an unsettling psychological study of desperation.
Buck’s child-like naivete, the fact that he has never moved on past these encounters, is almost always inappropriate. “I think about you all the time,” he says when he’s first reunited with Chuck at his mother’s funeral. “Us as kids and stuff.” It has been 16 years. Later, when Buck gropes Chuck in the bathroom at the mercy meal, even that didn’t register with me at the time; it’s almost lost in the film’s presentation of how childlike Buck still is, sucking on Charms Blow Pops and listening to a song whose main lyrics are “Ooodly ooodly ooodly fun fun fun”. When Buck is constantly asking if Chuck remembers “the games” they used to play, he isn’t talking about “The Devil and the Reindeer” (they both have horns, so they team up against Santa!), he’s talking about “Chuck and Buck, Suck and Fuck”, a game Chuck obviously does not want to remember.
All those clues, and still, I did not see that reveal coming.
The trailer for Chuck and Buck did not betray the “twist”, and why should it? No good movie trailer gives everything away. But the DVD packaging , on the other hand, disingenuously frames the plot. Perhaps I am looking at a 2000 era movie through a 2017 lens (something I try to shy away from), but I am sure if I noticed it then I would have been uncomfortable, the way I felt when ABC Family made The Craft look like a wacky kid-friendly romp. “The result is a wickedly hilarious story of two guys about to learn that growing up…is the strangest trip of all.” You can almost hear the trailer dude’s wacky voice.
Chuck and Buck is, of course, a movie about obsession, but it’s also a movie about how the things that happen to us as children - especially those things sexual in nature - never really leave us. It is a lesson in how our shared experiences are not remembered universally; Buck is frozen in the past, determined to rebuild that relationship from almost two decades ago; Chuck has grown up, becoming a successful music producer with a lovely—if a bit too understanding!—fiancée on his arm.
There is no indication that their actions, while inappropriate, were abusive— that this was a mutual experimentation between two pubescent boys, an activity that is probably more common than anyone wants to admit. Chuck’s apprehension and annoyance towards Buck seems to make sense in a “why won’t this weirdo fuck off” way, but is it a more guilt or embarrassment driven apprehension? Is he ashamed of his homosexual “past”, with Buck now a daily walking reminder of it - and/or are these feelings he’s been suppressing all this time? How often does loneliness, does the need to be desired, force us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t, force us to act out of desperation? While Chuck can’t even have a normal conversation with Buck (he’s obviously uncomfortable every time they interact), Buck writes a goddamned play* based on their life, complete with the wicked witch (based on Chuck’s fiancée) that is trying to tear the two boys apart.
While we don’t know where Chuck stands in terms of sexual orientation, when Buck promises he’ll leave him alone if he spends the night, he does not protest. It seems to work; Chuck leaves, and Buck, after a brief freak out and a pep talk from his theater partner Beverly (Lupe Ontiveros), seems to be able to finally move on.
In reading up on the reviews of this movie (I have talked and read more about Chuck and Buck in the past month than I have in 17 years), it seems that most people delight in Buck's childlike presentation, in his not so violent but still super creepy insertion into Chuck’s Los Angeles life. I do not, nor do I approve of sex as a bargaining tool. Really, the most unrealistic aspect of this movie is that last sexual encounter, that closure that they both experience afterward. A years-long obsession would not end so abruptly; all Buck wants is Chuck to be who he was as a kid, and for Buck to be important to him again.
Still, there is something familiar about the emotions presented in Chuck and Buck. Longing, desire, nostalgia, panic, the need to be loved, the need to be accepted. This movie is not just a movie about obsession; it’s a love letter. A weird one, but a love letter nonetheless; and really, aren’t all love letters a bit dramatic?
*Incidentally, the play-related scenes really contribute to the bulk of the “comedy” aspect of Chuck and Buck. Between Beverly, the cast that auditions, and the fact that the theater doesn’t even remove the Wizard of Oz backdrop for the Buck’s play, the theater scenes are what drew the most laughs from me.