Uncle Buck (1989)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in One-Man Show | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Some swearing and a little sexual content in the form of double entendres or dirty innuendo, but still tame even for a John Hughes movie.

Writer-director John Hughes was the king of teen movies in the 80s, but his movies were rarely understood or enjoyed outside of that exclusive (and hormonal) group. Uncle Buck, however, is his most accessible film for teens, adults, and young ones alike. I suspect that it corresponds with the film’s main points of conflict: a high school girl and her mother, two youngsters and their surrounding world, and a middle-aged deadbeat and his hardworking girlfriend.

The movie takes place in the fictional town of Aurora, Illinois (as all Hughes movies do), where we’re meant to primarily identify with a teenage girl who resents her parents, who put her in charge of her two younger siblings and their meals, while the teen believes it should be mom and dad who play homemakers. “We need men around so we can marry them and they become shadows,” she tells her impressionable sister. “I’m going to take a week off work,” mom excitedly tells the kids during dinner. “Why, so you can interview new housekeepers?” retorts the angry daughter.

Buck2Later that evening the phone rings. It seems mom’s father had a heart attack, and they must drive to Indianapolis to be by his side. The couple frantically goes through their address book for a sitter, and are forced to call Uncle Buck (John Candy), a slob who drinks and smokes too much and has no sense of responsibility whatsoever. Plus they haven’t seen or heard from him in years.

John Candy is meant to carry the film and provide the appeal. And he does a decent job of it. Seeing this guy in upper-middle-class suburbia provides fish-out-of-water jokes, not to mention his intrusions into the lives of his nieces and nephew, who think he’s a barbarian. Buck takes it upon himself to protect older sister Tia from a creepy crush named Bug (obvious conflict that ends with duct tape, a drill, and a five wood), and shape up the fresh-faced young sibs by threatening to take their toothbrushes to the crime lab to determine if they actually brushed or just ran them under water. Jean Louisa Kelly gives a good, bitchy performance as Tia in her debut role, but don’t expect a genuine ending, because it’s as cheesy as can be.

Younger sister Maizy is played by adorable where-is-she-now actress Gaby Hoffmann (Field of Dreams and Sleepless in Seattle), and the film’s best scene concerns Buck visiting her principal’s office. I’m passionate about a lot of things, one of which is creativity in education, so I always look forward to this scene – an all-too-common occurrence in our schools. The gag is that we can’t stop staring at her mole, and Buck routinely lets slip words like wart and melanoma. The conversation concludes as follows: “I’ve been an educator for 31.3 years, and in that time I’ve seen a lot of bad eggs. … I see a bad egg in your niece. She is a twiddler, a dreamer, a sillyheart, a jabberbox, and I don’t think she takes a thing in her life or her career as a student seriously,” the principal says.

“I don’t think I want to know a 6 year-old who isn’t a dreamer or a sillyheart, and I sure don’t want to know one who takes their student life seriously,” Buck angrily responds. “I don’t have a college degree. I don’t even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one, because they’re all good kids until dried out old skags like you drag them down and convince them they’re no good. Take this quarter. Go downtown and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face. Good day, madam.”

Though prior to Home Alone, Macaulay Culkin is as mouthy as ever as young brother Miles, referring to his mom as “chicky,” challenging his uncle to a record number of consecutive questions, and interrogating his babysitter through the mail slot (allegedly helping give Hughes the idea for Home Alone). Other than Home Alone, Uncle Buck was Culkin’s highest grossing movie. It was No. 1 for four weeks, but got an extremely cold reception from critics like Roger Ebert and Variety.

John Hughes is far better known for his work in revolutionizing the teen genre with Brat Pack hits like Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, and (his best film) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (Hughes also did the fantastic drama-comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles, wrote the funny Vacation and Christmas Vacation, plus helmed the mediocre family friendly The Great Outdoors.) But Hughes’ films garnered more flack than praise, and it wasn’t until his young death in 2009 that critics finally gave him his due, recognizing his mark on cinema.

Unfortunately his recognizable career ended in 1991 when Curly Sue flopped and he opted to produce and write exclusively. He fueled a tired Hollywood machine of remakes and reworkings of TV shows (Dennis the Menace, Flubber, Miracle on 34th Street, and 101 Dalmations), but we’ll always remember him for discovering amazing talent and making movies that defined a generation of teens. He deserves an Uncle Buck breakfast for that.

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