Movies We Like
Amidst all of the (well-deserved) praise for Judd Apatow's recent successes as a writer-director-producer, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that he's following a trail that was pretty well blazed by John Hughes twenty years ago. Like Apatow, Hughes made a name for himself by using a tight-knit group of collaborators to make a series of comedies that were at times slapstick, at times raunchy, at times high brow, and at all times built around a strong, essentially heartwarming story of personal growth.
Uncle Buck, Hughes' penultimate film, is a great example of this. John Candy, in one of his finest performances, plays Buck Russell, a proud bachelor that has built his life around having nothing and no one to weigh him down. After a family emergency, Buck is called upon to babysit his nephew Miles (Macaulay Culkin, at his most precocious) and nieces Maizy (Gaby Hoffmann) and Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly). He quickly gains the trust and love of the young Miles and Maizy, but teenaged neice Tia is old enough to recognize Buck for the black sheep that he is, and she intends to use Buck's stay as an opportunity to get away with things her parents wouldn't allow, especially with her boyfriend, "Bug."
Tia's rebellion stems from her resentment that the family has recently moved to Chicago from Indiana, and she's been forced to leave behind a life that she was comfortable with. Buck and Tia are quickly cast as opponents in a battle of wills, and with each strike made, a stronger counterstrike follows. Over the course of their battle, each makes a certain degree of self-discovery, and both characters' plots prove to more or less be coming-of-age stories.
Hughes' success with Uncle Buck occurs on many fronts: the slapstick moments are brilliantly choreographed and perfectly executed; the situational comedy excels on the basis of its universality; the dramatic tension at moments is palpable, and the character development is perfectly paced. As a surprising addition, there are moments of sheer surrealism (in his Chicago apartment, Buck's "clapper" activates the home run sequence at Wrigley Field across the street) that are a good deal of fun even if they make absolutely no sense and deter from the relative realism that the film otherwise maintains.
The real heart of Uncle Buck though is its title character. Like Seth Rogen recently did in Knocked Up, John Candy uses his instant charm and overwhelming likability to create a lovable loser. His approach to the world around him is unique, and seeing him deal with a snotty assistant principal or preparing a birthday breakfast makes for a fun ride. Mostly though, he's a failure that the audience desperately wants to see succeed, and his journey is, as a result, a thoroughly rewarding one.