Chuck and Buck isn’t a realistic movie. The protagonist, Buck, is a construct and never meant to be taken as a "real person." Buck (Michael White, also the screenwriter) is twenty-seven, and although he has the adult skills needed for the plot (driving a car, banking), his social and intellectual skills, as well as his emotions, are arrested somewhere around the age of eleven. He sucks on lollipops, creates grade-school collages, and when he doesn’t get his way he mopes or stomps away.
When his mother dies, Buck moves to Los Angeles for the sole purpose of reestablishing contact with his best childhood buddy, Chuck (Chris Weitz), now an ambitious, career-oriented music producer who is engaged to be married. Buck is obsessed with Chuck; his memory of their friendship is fixed. In a childlike way, he doesn’t allow for the changes that come with time, in part, perhaps, because he himself is stuck in an earlier time.
Chuck ("I go by ‘Charlie’ now.") quickly rejects Buck – he doesn’t fit the social milieu or Chuck’s yuppie lifestyle. Buck, like a child, doesn’t know how to take no for an answer, but unlike a child, has the wherewithal and the determination to stalk Chuck, hoping he can gain his acceptance.
It’s not an uninteresting concept for exploring the nature of friendships, the ways that people are honest and dishonest with themselves and one another. The problem is that neither of the principals is a likable character and Buck’s inappropriate behaviors quickly become genuinely annoying. Sympathy is generated for Chuck as victim – it’s hard not to identify and feel queasy as his life is invaded by this insistent misfit from the past. To the film’s credit, Chuck’s role in the relationship turns out to be somewhat more complex, making it difficult to draw easy conclusions.
In a subplot, Buck writes a play, "Hank and Frank," expressing his viewpoint of the Chuck/Buck relationship. The play is produced at a small theater – one that specializes in children’s plays. Enter the only genuinely likable character in the film, Beverly (Lupe Ontiveros), the manager of the theater. Warm, worldly-wise, and sympathetic, she has the heart to allow a weirdo like Buck in, and she treats him like a real person. She’s also the only individual character given any sense of irony, and therefore she has the funniest lines. The audience laughs with her, but at the others. Her take on the play flies right over Buck’s bewildered head: "It’s like a homoerotic, misogynistic love story," she says. He thought it was just a fairy tale. (But then, fairy tales are never the simple children’s stories they seem to be either.)
The film tends to ramble and would have benefited from sharper editing. The conclusion is less than fully convincing. The character changes that screenwriter White would have us believe the leads undergo don’t feel earned by the events that have transpired; credulity is strained. And whatever faults the film has are aggravated by the use of an original song, "Freedom of the Heart," an annoying piece of bubblegum pop used extensively on the soundtrack, far beyond the value of any ironic commentary it provides.
A good deal of intelligence, thoughtfulness, and originality is evidenced in Chuck and Buck. Still, audience response will be conditioned by its measure of tolerance for spending an hour and a half with key characters who would probably be avoided outside of the movie house.