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Uncle Buck (1989)

by on 2010/03/25

It’s difficult to critique a movie like Uncle Buck.  As much as the title character, it makes no pretentions at being anything but a well-intentioned mess.  There are no grand themes here, no hidden messages, and a distinct absence of cinematic flair.  We get light, lively family fare:  fast-moving, fast-talking, and oddly endearing while it lasts.

Starring John Candy as Uncle Buck, the movie looks at the Russell family, who are unable to find a babysitter when both parents are obliged to travel.  Reluctantly, they involve Buck Russell, an unemployed slob who, while generally harmless, is quirky enough to be an embarrassment to them.  Through a series of misadventures, Buck becomes familiar with the lives of his nieces Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly) and Maizy (Gaby Hoffman), and nephew Miles (Macaulay Culkin).  While initially disruptive, he helps each child face their various issues in his own unique way, and grows to become a welcome presence.

Uncle Buck is notable mostly for being the first of three collaborations between John Candy, Macaulay Culkin, and writer/producer/director John Hughes (the other two being Home Alone and Only the Lonely).  Among fans of the late Hughes, this movie is considered a transition away from his renowned teen-oriented films (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and into more mainstream adult efforts (Planes, Trains and Automobiles, She’s Having a Baby, and Christmas Vacation).

While Uncle Buck clearly lacks the intensity of Hughes’ earlier work, there are lingering hints of it from time to time, particularly in one subplot, where the movie suggests that Tia may have been sexually assaulted in ignoring Buck’s warnings.  Aside from this character’s arc, there is very little angst.  Most of the story is played for laughs and any gloom is taken in stride, anticipating the shallow slapstick of later pieces like Beethoven, Dennis the Menace, and Flubber.

So while I am personally sorry to find the movie compromising intensity for novelty, it is undeniably entertaining.  There are too many memorable moments to single out notable examples and — while they may not add up to a particularly cohesive whole — it’s nice to have them gathered together in one place for easy consumption.

* * *

Rated PG for adult situations, profanity, and substance abuse

100 minutes

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