"Chuck & Buck"

How the "insiders" made a creepy, compassionate minor landmark of indie cinema on no budget.

By Andrew O'Hehir

Executive Editor

Published February 5, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

"Chuck & Buck"
Directed by Miguel Arteta
Starring Mike White, Chris Weitz, Lupe Ontiveros, Beth Colt
Artisan Entertainment; widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio)
Extras: Two commentary tracks, deleted scenes, more

Since this low-budget wonder -- a fave rave at Sundance 2000 -- was shot on digital video, it might look better on TV than it did on the big screen. But "Chuck & Buck" requires no apologies for its technical limitations. Of course its mainspring is screenwriter Mike White's goofy, elastic mug and his astonishing performance as Buck, a 27-year-old obsessive who longs to hunt down his former best friend and resume their childhood sex games. (My favorite Buck line: "I like Coke. I miss my mom.") Under the seamless, graceful direction of Miguel Arteta ("Star Maps"), it's a potent fable about the nature of the divided self and the costs of growing up.

After White, however, the cast is more than a little uneven. As Charlie (formerly Chuck), the Los Angeles music producer eager to evade Buck's increasingly troublesome advances, Chris Weitz has such a bland, smooth surface that the character seems to lack identity. This feels like a deliberate choice, and Charlie's fiancée Carlyn (Beth Colt) is an even blanker slate, but if White and Arteta are trying to make the point that these are soulless yuppies, the point is both trite and unclear. On the positive side, Lupe Ontiveros, who has played Latina maids in countless films, offers a marvelous and unexpected performance as the salty mother hen who becomes Buck's confidante.

White and Arteta's commentary track is amusing but laconic in the extreme; it's not clear if this is an advantage or a disadvantage, but they pretty much let you watch the movie, interrupting only occasionally with random in jokes and cackling. If you dig their affectless L.A. hipster "Mystery Science Theater" mode, you may find it irresistible. The real gem on this disc is the "insider commentary" track provided by key grip Doug Kieffer and director's assistant Ruben Fleischer, who talk us through the often hilarious challenges of shooting a feature film on next to no budget. (Don't miss the wedding-cake barf-bucket story at the very end.) Whatever its flaws, "Chuck & Buck" is a minor landmark of indie film for its ambition and compassion, and was clearly a labor of love for those involved, most of whom are college pals trying to hang on to their artistic ideals while working in Hollywood. And you might not get that "oodly oodly fun fun fun!" song out of your head for weeks.

By Andrew O'Hehir

Andrew O'Hehir is executive editor of Salon.

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