If Disney's The Kid explored the positive aspects of coming face-to-face with a nearly forgotten childhood, then "Chuck & Buck" is its evil twin. The creepy, cautionary tale of Charlie Sitter (Chris Weitz) -- an up-and-coming music-business executive in Los Angeles who finds himself stalked by Buck O'Brien (Mike White), his best friend from childhood -- is strangely compelling due to the seemingly artless central performances of its nonactors, and to director Miguel Arteta's ("Star Maps") use of digital video to give his film the striking intimacy of a home movie.
The title characters once formed an inseparable duo. But while Charlie has moved comfortably into adulthood to enjoy a stylish, well-appointed abode and an equally appealing fiancee, Carlyn (Beth Colt), Buck is a bizarre case of arrested development. While his exterior shows a 27-year-old man who can drive and keep a bank account, Buck has the mind and emotional capacity of an 11-year-old boy who has never gotten over his first love: Chuck.
Buck can't see the subtext of his actions, particularly when he writes a play titled "Hank & Frank," which casts his real-life friendship (and subsequent rejection by the object of his obsession) as a fairy tale about lost innocence and recaptured love.
Incessantly sucking on Blow Pops in his toy-littered room, Buck is a scary figure in a very primal way: His child's-eye view includes an inability to cloak or contain desire, and he's not mature enough to know that he must accept responsibility for his actions.
Yet White (who also wrote the screenplay) beautifully brings Buck to the cusp of awareness. The staging of his play brings a few vital characters into the mix in the persons of house manager-turned-director Beverly (Lupe Ontiveros) -- a maternal figure with a no-nonsense attitude toward life -- and the crude, lewd and completely inept actor, Sam (Paul Weitz), who serves as Charlie's doppelgänger.
The Weitz brothers produced and directed American Pie, while White is a screenwriter and producer of TV's "Freaks and Geeks." But they bring a wholly different sensibility to "Chuck & Buck," which concerns itself with the slicing through of Hollywood artifice.
An expert at finding the humanity in seemingly irredeemable characters, director Arteta touches more than a few raw nerves, and he taps into the characters' memories through dreamlike footage of young boys and the use of an insidiously catchy kiddie-pop ditty.
"Chuck & Buck" is the sort of film that burrows under the skin by refusing to establish the expected cinematic distance between the audience and the bizarre man-child at its center. It may freak us out, but it's never a freak show.
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