JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

During an unannouced evening visit, Buck proposes a sex game to Chuck.

“Chuck and Buck, suck and fuck!”

When Chuck rejects him, Buck finds a lookalike in untalented working-class actor Sam.

Beverly knows Sam can’t act, but is powerless to stop Buck from casting him.

Chuck tells Buck not to call anymore: “A lot has changed—I can’t deal with you. I’m not the same person anymore.”

Buck is heartbroken — again.

Sam likes Buck’s play.

Sam watches Buck walk away. A gay scoping?

“Yeah, I’m twisted.”

“You gotta make him come!”

Carlyn wants to see Buck’s play: “It sounds illuminating.” 

Chuck doesn’t want to see the play.

 Beverly describes Buck’s play, Hank and Frank, as a “homoerotic misogynistic love story.”  Buck calls it a “fairy tale.”

Hank and Frank.

The witch in Hank and Frank looks suspiciously like Chuck’s fiancée, Carlyn.

After the play is over, Buck hangs out with Sam...

...and tries to get into Sam’s pants.

Sam isn’t interested: “I didn’t ask you to grab my cock!”

Buck asks Chuck for one last night together in exchange for leaving him alone forever.

“Do you remember me?”

 

  Man-boys and domineering mothers

Hollywood’s tendency to desexualize man-boy characters, as in Forrest Gump (1994, dir. Zemeckis), is at least partially a result of its belief in the “old idea” that “[male] homosexuality is a result of arrested development” (Doty, Making Things 88). [open bibliography in new window] This arrested development, according to conservative pop-psychoanalytic discourse, is associated with the homosexual/man-boy’s overexposure to his mother:

"A too protective or too domineering mother might cause a son to remain stuck in an … immature, an oral or anal, stage of sexual development. A son who (over)identifies with his mother … might … place himself in the position of his mother desiring the father/men." (Flaming Classics 161).

While this linkage of gayness to arrested development and mother-overidentification is a common trope even within gay discourses, forming the basis for the misogynistic gay male stereotype, what I am most interested in here is how these tropes also get fused to sociopathic (or borderline-sociopathic) character traits, as in the case of Psycho’s Norman Bates and possibly also Buck. Let us examine Buck’s relationship with his mother more closely to see how he aligns with this formulation.

The opening sequence of Chuck&Buck shows Buck living alone with his mother, folding the laundry as she sits coughing herself to death in front of the television. Later, at a post-funeral gathering at the house, Buck tells Chuck and Carlyn that “Mom would’ve hated this — all these strangers in her house.” It is a statement that could as easily apply to the socially inept Buck as to his deceased mother, and therefore a possible instance of projection/over-identification on Buck’s part. Buck also keeps a photograph of his mom (but not of dad) prominently displayed on the desk in his L.A. motel room, and (by his admission) hers is the first of the photographic collages he constructs during the film — he makes another of his father, which we never really see, and one depicting himself and Chuck together.[6] [open notes in new window] Add to this Buck’s obvious orality — he sucks on blow-pops and Coke cup straws throughout the film — and we have a set of clues that may suggest, according to the Oedipal model, that Buck has over-identified with his (possibly domineering) mother. The degree to which the film encourages this reading and its heterocentrist implications about the origins of Buck’s sexuality is unclear. But it does clearly expose one of the ways the film deploys (wittingly or otherwise) the queer man-boy stereotype in its depiction of Buck.

However, the fact that Buck is a stalker and thus is assertively and queerly sexual — even his name connotes virility, albeit in a bestial way — is, as Sight and Sound reviewer Edward Lawrensen notes, “a spot of taboo-breaking” (44) that makes Buck a transgressive character even if the explanation for his behavior incorporates regressive or heterocentric elements. The taboo nature of what Buck represents is borne out in the elision of his sexuality in the popular reviews I refer to at the beginning of this piece, and has parallels in the downfall of fictional television character Pee-wee Herman, which was predicated on the public revelation of the (perverse) sexuality of Pee-wee creator Paul Reubens:

“[O]nce Reubens queered the deal by being sexual in public, his market value as Pee-wee was nil … After the arrest, [of Reubens for masturbating in an adult theater] … kids + sex + Pee-wee equaled … a playground for homophobic fantasies” (Making Things 97).

And while Reubens, after a decent interval, was reinstated — episodes of Pee-wee’s Playhouse eventually re-ran on The Family Channel and a feature film version of the show is slated for 2007 release — Doty’s general point stands, that queer sexuality plus children equals something dangerous and forbidden in U.S. culture.

Interestingly, this taboo against depicting child sexuality, especially queer sexuality, persists despite contradictory pop-psychological discourses that assert that sexual experimentation between adolescents is normal — a trope that Carlyn even uses to defend Chuck’s heterosexuality during Buck’s verbal confrontation with her near the end of Chuck&Buck.[7]  Hence, what might make Buck especially disturbing to heterocentrist critics is that he is both a simplistic man-boy and queerly sexual, for, as Doty observes in his Flaming Classics chapter on The Wizard of Oz,

“the tendency toward heterocentrism becomes even more pronounced when people consider characters … who are under eighteen: any signs of homosexual desire and/or … queer identity in children and adolescents usually remain unacknowledged” (56).[8]

Thus we get the critics’ deflection of their anxieties about Buck’s sexuality onto other issues, particularly his voyeurism. However, as I will return to shortly, his voyeurism is significant in itself and may be the most transgressively queer aspect of Chuck&Buck.

Chuck’s queerness

Buck’s overt queerness finds counterpoint in Chuck, an apparently closeted bisexual who sublimates his now-latent gay desires into expressions of homophobia/repulsion toward Buck. This first occurs when Buck gropes Chuck during an embrace at Buck's mother’s funeral. Chuck quickly gathers Carlyn and hastens out of the house, and when she asks him “Don’t you want to say goodbye?” he lies and says “Yeah — I did.” And while Chuck’s discomfort here constitutes a legitimate response to Buck’s inappropriateness in cornering Chuck in the bathroom in the first place, there is an anxiety and venom in Chuck’s responses to Buck throughout the film that suggest something more than just annoyance at a presumptuous and socially oblivious ex-acquaintance. Throughout the film, Chuck blows Buck off, alternately asking Carlyn and his office assistant, Jamila, to lie to Buck and tell him he is not there. On the few occasions when Buck penetrates this outer defense and speaks to Chuck, the latter is swift to repudiate any claim Buck might have to his attentions, as in the phone conversation wherein Buck verbally confronts Chuck with his complicity in his (Buck’s) obsessive behavior:

"CHUCK: Look, I’m sorry that your mother died, and I know we were really good friends once.
BUCK: We were best friends.
CHUCK: Right, but that was a long time ago. My life is really complicated right now. I’ve got a ton of work, I’m getting married —
BUCK: It’s because of her, huh?
CHUCK: Carlyn?
BUCK: She doesn’t like me.
CHUCK: She does like you, okay? It’s not her. A lot has changed — I can’t deal with you, I’m not the same person anymore.
BUCK: What do you mean?
CHUCK: (pause) (slowly) I don’t know why you’ve fixated on me.
BUCK: Yes, you do.
CHUCK: (pause) (angrily) Look, don’t call — don’t call me at home, don’t call at the office, don’t stop by unannounced. Just stay away. (hangs up)"

By this point in the film, it is easy to read Chuck’s refusal of Buck as a form of denial about their past sexual relationship, largely because we have seen Chuck experience a flashback of the two of them as children running together in the woods. In other words, we know that on some level Chuck does know exactly why Buck is fixated on him — because of their past sexual affair. And we can therefore read his repudiation of Buck in this scene (and elsewhere) as an expression of homophobic disavowal. Along these same lines, if Chuck is indeed bisexually queer — and by the end of the film, it is clear that he is still open to non-straight sexual experiences — then the traditional heteronormativity of Chuck’s relationship with Carlyn (for example, there is no specific evidence that she works outside the home) can be read as another potential expression of homosexual disavowal, in the form of passing for straight.

This is not to say that Chuck is not hetero- (or bi-) sexual or that his relationship with Carlyn can be reduced to the terms of a heteronormative front. However, given that the film tells its story largely from Buck’s perspective,[9] I think we are encouraged to see Chuck and Carlyn’s relationship the way Buck does, as two-dimensional and “old-persony.” In part, this is due to the way the film’s comedy is structured. It is essentially a comedy of manners wherein an unwanted guest (Buck) intrudes into the world of middle-class domesticity, and as the butt of the jokes, Chuck and Carlyn must be kept at a distance from the audience. But given the sexual politics of the piece, their relationship is also an ellipse that leaves many questions about Chuck’s queerness/repressed bisexuality unanswered.[10]

Sam: working-class/queer

Chuck’s mimetic double in the film is the untalented stage actor Sam, who plays the Chuck-equivalent role in Buck’s play and is cast for his physical resemblance to Chuck. Generally, Sam’s queerness is legible as a marker of his lower-class status and is stereotypically marked by his extreme misogyny: as Doty remarks,

“[the] resentment and dislike of women by which gay men … are (stereo)typically characterized … [stem] from their problems with the heterocentrist and patriarchal cultural definitions and depictions of women forced upon them” (Making Things 86).

This comment would likely apply to Sam, coming as he does from a masculine, working-class (carpet-laying) background. More specifically, analysis of a few key scenes will highlight how deeply queerness runs underneath Sam’s working-class, hyper-macho surface.

The first sequence I turn to is Sam’s reaction to Buck’s attempt to engage him sexually one evening at Sam’s apartment. Sam is asleep, passed out over too many beers and the late hour, and Buck lies down behind him and slowly reaches for his (Sam’s) crotch. Sam awakens and says:

SAM: What the fuck? What was that?
BUCK: I was just —
SAM: Man, what was that, Buck?
BUCK: I was going to sleep over.
SAM: Get out of here, I didn’t ask you to grab my cock!

Both Sam’s affect and his last line are of interest here. While he is certainly startled by Buck’s forwardness and is upset by what has transpired, Sam displays none of the coldness or distance that Chuck does when rejecting/ reprimanding Buck, and he certainly does not order him to stay out of his life permanently. And while this may be indicative of a class distinction — Sam is not refined or well-mannered enough to repudiate Buck’s uninhibited, forward behavior — nevertheless, given the extremity of his macho posing earlier in the film, Sam’s reaction to Buck comes across here as downright mild. And Sam’s last line carries a potentially subversive message. Sam claims that he didn’t ask Buck to grab his cock, but this implies that he could if he wanted to. In other words, Sam is at least potentially open to homosexual acts, just not with Buck at this particular time. The queerness of this line is enriched when we consider what comes before and after this pivotal moment in Sam and Buck’s relationship.

When Sam and Buck first meet in the theater after the former has been cast, Sam compliments Buck on his play and then gives him a long look. The feeling conveyed is one of Sam “scoping Buck out,” gazing upon him in a way that suggests both admiration (for Buck’s ability to write such a “fantastic” play) and homosexual desire. He smiles at Buck and then watches him as he turns around and walks away. This “smiling and scoping” is a motif that will be repeated when Buck and Sam meet in the hallway at the end of the film, and with the coded-gay man Buck meets at Chuck and Carlyn’s wedding. I will return to those instances shortly, but first I want to look at one more Sam scene, one that, had it remained in the final cut of the film, would have brought the “closeted” Sam fully “out” into the open.

The sequence in question is really an extended version of a sequence that appears in the theatrical release of the film, depicting the first evening that Buck and Sam get together for beers after rehearsal in Buck’s hotel room. In the shorter theatrical-release version, the two of them discuss the play and Sam makes some misogynistic comments about Beverly (Lupe Ontiveros), the play’s director. Then talk turns to Buck’s friend Chuck and whether or not he will attend the production. Buck asserts that Chuck probably will not come see the show because “I don’t think he wants to be my friend anymore … I’m not normal.” To which Sam replies, “Hey, Buck, you’re normal … [The] least this guy can do is get off his ass and come see it. I mean, come on, you’ve just got to make him come.” Sam’s last line here, a double entendre that suggests that at least on a subconscious level Sam is tuned in to Buck’s queerness, ends the short version of the sequence. However, in the extended version available on the DVD, the sequence continues, with the two of them listening to music and then Buck propositioning Sam:

BUCK: You could spend the night here.
SAM: What do you mean?
BUCK: Do you want to spend the night here?
SAM: Well, there’s only one bed.
BUCK: That’s all right.
SAM: (looks at Buck, the bed, back at Buck) Nah, I don’t think so.

The time Sam takes to consider Buck’s offer in silence as he looks at the bed and back at Buck — a full ten seconds — reveals a great deal about Sam’s attitude toward homosexuality. Interestingly, this extended version of the scene also includes the film’s only reference to Sam’s ex-girlfriend, a nameless woman who “joined a cult to get away from me.” In short, had this longer scene been included in the film’s theatrical release, it would have been a less subtle matter to read Sam as a bisexual and/or homosexual character. As it is, we still have his gazes at Buck, his quickness to forgive Buck for the crotch-grabbing episode, and his own ambiguous admission in the shorter version of the sequence just described: “Yeah, I know, I’m twisted.” Occurring in the same conversation as Buck’s confession that “I’m not normal,” Sam’s self-description takes on special meaning, forming a bond between Buck and Sam that is steeped in shared if not sexually consummated queerness.

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