Uncle Buck (John Hughes, 1989)

 Wanted: sleazy relative to watch the children, no experience required

Who wouldn’t want John Candy as their uncle? Well, back when he still lived, of course. Uncle Buck is a fine comedy in that specific 80s John Hughes tradition, coupling broad laughs with teenage angst and concerns about growing up.

When mom and dad need to care for an ailing grandfather, the three kids are left in the charge of their dubiously seedy, but well-meaning uncle. Buck is a careless type, who gambles on horses and shirks employment. He strings along his girlfriend and seems to want to be contented over everything else. Real happiness takes effort, after all. Enter this unforeseen parental experience, and you can already tell how things will develop.

The focus is on teenage daughter Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly), who seems to hate the world and gives Buck a very hard time. They butt heads over everything, though at first Buck seems to have the upper hand. When Tia complains about being embarrassed about the ride to school in a most dilapidated 1975 Mercury Marquis, Buck threatens to walk her to class personally, in his underpants, if she doesn’t behave. Things escalate from there, with Tia’s virginity at stake. Buck shows a true parent’s concern and his shining moment arrives when he infiltrates a student party and drills down a bedroom door. This gleeful scene has been the focus of a deviously funny rearrangement: a fan took the footage and edited it into a trailer that made it seem like Uncle Buck was a horror film and John Candy a vicious killer. Candy would’ve chuckled if he were still around.

The film has aged a little, in the sense that it is satisfied with a lower than today average of comedy moments per minute, but it is still a funny movie. Particularly with the inclusion of a pre-Home Alone Macaulay Culkin, who plays the most adorable, precocious little kid. Uncle Buck showed Hughes that Culkin had the chops to carry the franchise that propelled him to stardom a year later. Yes, it’s a little musty here and there, and the preoccupation with Tia’s love life surprisingly prudish. But it also has Candy punching a drunken clown in the face, twice. I don’t care where you’re from – that’s entertainment.

Roderick Leeuwenhart

1 comment: