2007, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 49, spring 2007
A stalker’s odyssey:
arrested development, gay desire,
and queer comedy in Chuck&Buck
by Carter Soles
In 1992, B. Ruby Rich wrote “New Queer Cinema,” an essay that delineates a group of independent films released in 1991-92 notable for its oppositional attitude toward mainstream aesthetic conventions and frank engagement with queer characters and themes. Eight years later, Rich wrote a follow-up piece, “Queer and Present Danger,” arguing that in the wake of the New Queer Cinema (NQC) “moment” of 1991-92, queer images and subject matter had been appropriated and commodified by the wider (that is, non-queer) independent film industry in the mid- to late 1990s:
“Soon enough the draw of the queer dollar and the aura of a queer fashion began to attract heterosexual directors eager to make their mark and skilled enough to do it” (23-4). [open bibliography in new window]
“Queer and Present Danger” declared that the release and critical success of such post-NQC films as Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and Chasing Amy (1997) proved that the production of cinematic queerness for mainstream consumption was well underway.
This essay investigates one such post-NQC independent film, Miguel Arteta’s Chuck&Buck (2000), examining in detail how it engages with male homosexual desire in a way that renders its queer male characters and thematics at least potentially palatable to non-queer-identifying audiences while taking its viewers on a “stalker’s odyssey” that marks the film as pervasively queer. For while the film does not necessarily possess the broad appeal or critical status of the other films Rich mentions, it stands as a provocative example of recent independent cinema’s increasing willingness to address LGBTQ issues, and as we shall see, Chuck&Buck does this in a particularly radical way. However, Chuck&Buck’s willingness to queerly depict gay encounters, themes, and characters is at the same time mitigated by its formal and structural disavowals of its gay/queer content. The way the film negotiates its own queerness via this oscillation between queer denotation and disavowal is not only germane to Chuck&Buck but is endemic to the discursive politics of many post-NQC independent films, from 1994’s Clerks to the recent Garden State (2004).[open notes in new window] The ambiguous and contradictory character of this negotiation can be initially grasped through a cursory look at Chuck&Buck’s reviews.
Reviewing Chuck&Buck’s reviews
I first saw Chuck&Buck in 2002 and my research for this project began when I started reading popular reviews of the film at that time. Reading such reviews, I was disheartened though not completely surprised to discover how few of them, especially those written for mainstream U.S. publications, were willing to address the male homosexual desire that pervades the film and impels its narrative. As a low-budget independent film that, despite its sporadic critical acclaim has failed to gain a widespread cult (let alone queer) following, I expected to find mainstream publications panning it and wasn’t surprised by the negative reviews. But I was surprised to discover how many of the reviews elided the sexual content of the film altogether. Of nine such popular reviews I read, only three specifically mention the sexual component of Chuck and Buck’s relationship and most of these do so in vague or pejorative terms. Doubtless, this is in part due to the (regrettably typical) homophobic bent of these publications and their presumed readership.
In contrast, while it was difficult to locate very many reviews of Chuck&Buck in the queer press, the reviews I did find there had a very different reaction to the film. To cite one example, from the popular queer film website PopcornQ, the review claims that “[b]ecause Buck is portrayed as emotionally stunted rather than deranged, the audience is not put off by behavior that amounts to stalking” and concludes that Chuck&Buck “is less about Buck's gayness than it is about forgiveness and coming to terms with one's past.” Reading the film as being about forgiveness rather than gayness, this review suggests that what may be disturbing to mainstream audiences is not so much Chuck&Buck’s focus on gay or potentially gay characters, but more so the behavior that leads Buck to ultimately need Chuck’s (and the audience’s) forgiveness and sympathy: his socially inappropriate stalking of Chuck and Carlyn.
As the PopcornQ review points out, what is most interesting about Buck’s stalking is that it is linked to emotional stunting rather than derangement. Hence, despite the discomfort Buck’s voyeurism may produce in many if not most audience members, it is ultimately presented as forgivable and even darkly humorous. Further, Buck’s stalkerism is perpetrated against two characters, Chuck and Carlyn, who are somewhat two-dimensionally depicted as unremarkable members of the upper-middle class. For example, we mostly know Chuck by his high-powered job at a record label, his expensive car (a BMW), and his repulsion toward Buck’s creepy yet innocently motivated advances. And we barely get to know Carlyn, Chuck’s fiancée, at all. Hence, the film establishes an opposition between Chuck and Carlyn’s middle-class pretensions and Buck’s persistent ignorance of them, tending to privilege Buck’s point of view through many strategies that I will outline in this article. I thus argue that, read as a form of queer expression, Buck’s apparent state of arrested development in Chuck&Buck can be understood as a form of opposition to heteronormativity as represented by Chuck and Carlyn, a clearing of space that, while linked to Buck’s nostalgia over his own childhood, allows him to express his homosexual erotic desire for Chuck in the present.
Chuck&Buck challenges heteronormativity by sympathetically portraying stalking as a means of puncturing the middle-class, heteronormative presumptions of many of its straight-identifying male characters, particularly Chuck. However, like many other independent films of its period, Chuck&Buck simultaneously acts to contain and marginalize this queerness through, first, its stereotypical treatment of Buck’s homosexuality, connecting it to arrested development, and second, as I will outline in detail, the repressive politics of its denouement.
As an independently produced low-budget film with explicitly queer components, Chuck&Buck is not as reluctant to open itself to queer interpretation as are many Hollywood films, and therefore my analysis will not depend upon seeking out what Alexander Doty calls the “silences and gaps” that open space for queerness in more mainstream texts (Flaming Classics 3). In fact, I will frequently be doing the opposite: looking for the places where the film’s openly queer characters and narrative are complicated by potentially heterocentric or “normalizing” influences, both diegetic and structural. Interestingly, while it is my ostensible aim to explore how the progressive aspects of Chuck&Buck’s queer politics, particularly its acceptance of stalkerism, are mitigated by its heterocentric elements and ellipses, it is these very heterosexual/ heterocentrist elements that open the way to a reading of the film that includes the greatest possible range of queer positionings: the acknowledgement of sexual identities and cultural positions that refuse to be delimited by the usual categories of (strictly) gay, lesbian, straight, and so forth. I will support my argument with queer readings of the principle male characters and a shot-by-shot analysis of the film’s last three minutes, concluding with remarks about Chuck&Buck’s queer politics and their place in the independent film movement of the 1990s.
Defining “queerness” and locating genre
Before proceeding with my analysis of specific characters and sequences from the film, a word needs to be said about my use of the terms “queer” and “queerness.” Following Doty, I see queerness as an inclusive term having a multivalence of possible meanings depending upon its specific context. In its broadest sense, it denotes “a wide range of positions within culture that are ‘queer’ or non-, anti-, or contra-straight” which, in addition to encompassing the positions of explicitly gay, lesbian, and other non-straight persons, “can be and [are] occupied in various ways by otherwise heterosexual and straight-identifying people” (Making Things 3, 4). In other words, as Doty constructs queerness and as I think the film Chuck&Buck exemplifies, everyone is potentially capable of inhabiting queer space or responding queerly to cultural texts. And since “queer erotics are already part of culture’s erotic center … as a necessary construct by which to define the heterosexual and the straight” (3), cultural products such as films cannot help but have queer erotics and thematics already embedded within them, no matter how explicitly or vehemently they might disavow this possibility. What interests me about Chuck&Buck is the way it negotiates this slippery slope. It is a film about non-hetero characters doing explicitly non-hetero things, and yet certain moments in the film, and especially its ending, feel like attempts to disavow or distort its homosexual content in some way.
In the context of this essay, I will be using queerness primarily to describe not-exclusively-straight males, especially the ambiguous Buck. As such my use of “queer” will align itself with Doty’s description of Psycho’s Norman Bates from Flaming Classics:
“not clearly identified as homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual, while also, in certain, usually gender, particulars, not fitting into current understandings of normative straightness” (157).
As we shall see, this kind of ambiguous description suits Buck — and arguably, other male characters throughout the film — quite accurately.
Chuck&Buck depicts the coming-of-age of Buck O’Brien (Mike White), an innocent man-boy who is obsessed with his childhood friend and former homosexual lover, Chuck Sitter (Chris Weitz). Following the death of his sick mother, Buck invites Chuck to the funeral and then comes on to him at the reception. Chuck rejects him, but this does not deter Buck. Buck moves to Los Angeles (with his childhood toys and record player in tow) to be closer to Chuck, who now goes by “Charlie” and is engaged to a woman named Carlyn Carlson (Beth Colt). Buck stalks Chuck, appearing at his home and office unannounced and spying on Chuck and Carlyn through their windows. When these efforts prove insufficient to bring Buck closer to Chuck, Buck writes and stages Hank and Frank, a play starring inept actor and Chuck look-alike Sam (Chris Weitz’s real-life brother, Paul). Buck’s play dramatizes his version of the idyllic heyday and subsequent estrangement, via an interfering witch, of his relationship with Chuck. However, watching Hank and Frank only further alienates Chuck. Buck finally resorts to offering to stay out of Chuck’s life permanently in exchange for one last night spent together, a deal Chuck accepts. The film ends with Buck honoring his part of the bargain, at least nominally moving on with his life, and ultimately attending Chuck and Carlyn’s wedding in the film’s final sequence.
Structurally, Chuck&Buck is a comedy. It nonjudgmentally depicts the efforts of a social transgressor to “outwit an opponent and possess the [love object] of his choice” and ends with a “the birth of a renewed sense of social integration,” usually expressed through a “marriage, a dance, or a feast” (Frye 450, 452).
Buck’s presumed opponent in his struggle to possess Chuck is Carlyn, and though she is a sympathetic character who does little to thwart Buck’s plans actively, in terms of the comedic structure, she poses a threat as an agent or representative of the middle-class, heterocentric social order that refuses to acknowledge Buck’s sexual claim on Chuck. In fact, Chuck has himself at least superficially adopted these heteronormative values in his adult life and thus to some extent embodies both the object of Buck’s desire and his opponent, though Buck refuses to see him as anything but the former throughout most of the film. Further adhering to the generic structure of the comedy, Chuck&Buck ends with a wedding, though the renewed social order it celebrates may or may not include Buck.
Despite its superficial adherence to the generic codes of comedy, Chuck&Buck really belongs to the subgenre of "dark" comedy, which indicates that it will likely disrupt or modify mainstream genre conventions to achieve its effects. The film does this in some particularly strange ways. Rather than provoke laughs, most of its comic moments tend to elicit squirms of discomfort. Its focus on Buck’s voyeurism and stalking activities are of primary importance in this regard. Ultimately, I argue that by presenting us with a sympathetic protagonist who is also a stalker, Chuck&Buck queers its comedy and takes the viewer on a stalker’s odyssey that is also a journey through very queer territory indeed. Turning its back on positive depictions of gay characters, Chuck&Buck instead revels in Buck’s inappropriateness and in so doing asks us to sympathize with a sexually ambiguous, emotionally immature, socially inept queer man.
Evidence of the film’s desire to elicit viewer empathy for Buck is found in its deployment of melodramatic conventions: most notably, for example, in Buck’s four heart-rending crying scenes. These melodramatic moments show Buck’s innocence, vulnerability, and harmlessness and thus allow Buck’s voyeuristic activities (bolstered by silly, circus-like music) to be read as darkly humorous rather than dangerous or terrifying. Further, Chuck&Buck’s more melodramatic, emotional scenes disrupt the film’s ability to maintain a consistent comic tone and set the audience up for its pathos-laden ending. Indeed, where the tensions between comedy and dark comedy/melodrama appear most significantly in the film is in its overt insistence on an "uplifting" denouement for its protagonist, Buck, and its apparent failure to fully achieve a happy ending for him (one that includes him in the aforementioned “new social unit” that is the central feature of comic resolution) or recognize the problematic aspects of its concluding sequence. I will return to these points in my analysis of the film’s last three minutes. But first we need to examine how Chuck&Buck represents its queer male characters more generally.
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). 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. 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. 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).
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.
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?
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 opento 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, 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.
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.
Carlyn and Beverly
Chuck&Buck reveals its awareness of itself as a queerly transgressive text primarily in its depiction of the two principal women in the narrative, Chuck’s fiancée Carlyn and Buck’s friend and theater director Beverly. Throughout the film’s diegesis these women act as helpers to Buck. Carlyn invites him to L.A. in the first place and to Chuck’s promotion party once he arrives there, and also galvanizes Chuck to attend the performance of Buck’s play. Beverly both directs Buck’s play, Hank and Frank, and frequently acts as Buck’s guide and emotional supporter during times of crisis. These two women also serve as points of identification for the (presumably adult) audience, often providing the voice of reason and maturity we might need in order to comfortably swallow Buck’s bizarre behavior with a grain of humor.
For example, late in the film, Carlyn advises Buck to seek professional therapy, and while it appears that he does not follow her advice exactly, he does seek a cathartic experience of his own design — his final sexual deal with Chuck — immediately following his talk with her. In short, he seems capable of listening to Carlyn’s reasonable suggestion despite his misogyny and his queerly inflected interpretation of her idea.
Beverly acts as a surrogate mother figure to Buck in the film, literally supplying a shoulder for him to cry on after his final encounter with Chuck. However, she also represents a director/ critic who takes an artistic interest in Buck and his play. In one of the funniest sequences in the film, Beverly offers to provide a beat-by-beat analysis of Hank and Frank for Buck, and in so doing calls the play a “homoerotic, misogynistic love story.” Beverly explains to Buck that the play’s witch character, by cursing and crippling Hank, symbolically castrates him. This is a pretty standard pop-psychoanalytic observation that is borne out by the snippets of Hank and Frank we see in the film. In the play, the evil witch, who in her modern guise in the second act of the play is dressed to resemble Carlyn, casts a curse on the two titular characters and ends the play by threatening them both with an oversized meat cleaver! However, Buck resists this interpretation of his work, calling it instead a “fairy tale” and asking Beverly what kind of TV shows she watches.
The humor here is generated by Buck’s total ignorance/ repudiation of the Freudian Oedipal discourse that the film so clearly implicates him in. Hence this is a key moment where the film reveals itself to have a humorously ironic point of view outside Buck’s, and that it is willing to generate humor at his expense. Further, Buck’s play, a textbook Oedipal scenario and quite accurately a “homoerotic, misogynistic love story,” is a reflection of the film Chuck&Buck itself, but without a meta-discursively aware figure like Beverly, who can comment on the proceedings as they transpire. For the viewer, Beverly’s awareness of the Freudian implications of Hank and Frank extend to the diegesis of Chuck&Buck, of which the former is an obvious mirror, and thus her comments here offer one possible reading of the film itself. This is a reading the film itself resists — for example, the film’s “witch,” Carlyn, is anything but one. However, Beverly’s nurturing, meta-critical presence both humanizes Buck and at the same time makes him the object of laughter and calls attention to the pop-psychoanalytic discourses that the film itself queerly plays with.
The wedding sequence
Now to turn to the last three minutes of Chuck&Buck and see what it reveals about Buck’s queerness and his place in culture as depicted in the film. Throughout this section, I will frequently refer to the shots by number as they appear in my sequence analysis chart (see sidebar).
The sequence begins with Buck arriving in the theater office and receiving an invitation to Chuck and Carlyn’s wedding. When Beverly asks him who is getting married, Buck replies, “This guy I know,” disavowing his special relationship with Chuck and — perhaps — signifying that Buck has now moved on healthily from his infatuation with Chuck. (We shall see if the remainder of the sequence bears out this possibility.) Further, as he delivers this line in shot 1, Buck puts the invitation into his backpack on the table — at the level of his crotch — and zips it up, symbolically “zipping up” his sexual desire for Chuck.
Shot 2 finds Buck at his apartment, preparing to attend the wedding, adjusting his hair and tie in the mirror. Everything about this shot indicates that Buck has transitioned from his previous childlike state into full-blown adulthood, or at least that he knows the appropriate external markers of adult-ness. His apartment is apparently toy free, the art on the walls is subdued, and there is no sign of the collages of his mother and father that have meant so much to him throughout the rest of the film. His clothing is different as well, as an awkwardly plaid (he hasn’t fully grown up!) sport jacket and tie have replaced the clothes of his boyhood: the horizontally striped, primary colored shirts and faded blue Members Only jacket. Shot 3 shows the newly attired Buck leaving his apartment — the new apartment he has moved into directly across the hall from Sam’s, reiterating Sam’s position as a surrogate or substitute for Chuck in Buck’s life.
Shots 4 and 5 are of particular interest because they are the last shots we will see of Sam, and they repeat the queer “scoping” motif from Sam and Buck’s earlier encounters. Once he notices Buck and turns to look fully at him in shot 4, Sam compliments him on his appearance, saying, “You look great.” Sam then almost immediately disavows this potentially queer position by admiring Buck’s jacket, displacing his desire for the man onto an article of his clothing — an ironic disavowal since he is lingering to watch Buck walk away down the hall as he says it. This two shot sequence once again queers both Sam and Buck, making Buck the object of a queer man’s desiring gaze and thereby codifying them both as gay. This codification will continue at the wedding, when Buck becomes the visual object of yet another queer man’s appraising eye.
At the wedding, Buck never shares the frame with either of the other two principle characters, Chuck or Carlyn, during the entirety of the sequence. Buck is seen with a short-haired woman (whose hairstyle could connote female queerness/ dyke-ness) who sits behind him during the ceremony (shot 8) and with a coded-gay man at the end (shots 15 and 16, to which I will return). By contrast, the ivy and trees behind Chuck and Carlyn (shots 7 and 9) serve to “naturalize” their union. And their white clothing (Chuck wears a white tuxedo, Carlyn a traditional bridal gown) suggests normative sexual purity and marital fidelity: a “straightening” of Chuck, since only a few sequences earlier he spent the night having sex with Buck. Chuck and Carlyn’s union is further legitimized by representatives of patriarchal culture in shot 12, where an old man looks on approvingly as the newlyweds begin their traditional first dance. As counterpoint to this shot, the next one shows Buck looking on with queer desire for Chuck, then finally casting his eyes down, as two women stand talking behind him: while Chuck and Carlyn dance in a privileged social space ringed by men, Buck is left on the sidelines with the women. The next shot (14) is a close up on Chuck and Carlyn kissing during the dance, sealing their heterosexual connection to the exclusion of Buck (and possibly the queerness/ bisexuality he represents with regard to Chuck).
Now enter the coded-gay man (Yehuda Maayan), who wears an earring in his left ear, a neatly pressed dark blue pinstriped suit, and has a closely trimmed vandyke beard. This man is the only person Buck talks to during the wedding sequence, in a conversation initiated by the man, who says “I love wedding cake” as he looks at Buck meaningfully. In fact, he looks at Buck appraisingly and with a smile three separate times during the 27 seconds they spend onscreen together. However, distracted by his wedding cake and his interest in looking at Chuck, Buck seems oblivious to these advances and looks as if he is giving off “gay vibes” but does not know it. Although he responds to the queer man, agreeing that the wedding cake is “sweet,” Buck continues (through shots 15, 16, and 18) to stare out toward the dance floor: even here at the end of the film, Buck only has eyes for Chuck. His futilely hopeful look in shot 8 (will Chuck say “No” to the minister?) and his downcast glance in shot 13 carry the same symbolic import as does his zipping up his crotch in shot 1: Buck sublimates his sexual desire for Chuck (and perhaps other men) into his love of sweets. He ends the film wolfing down wedding cake, watching on as the renewed social order of classic comedy is celebrated more or less without his participation. An outsider to heteronormativity, he is also (as yet) unable to claim the fullness of his own queer sexual identity. As Alexander Doty writes in the conclusion to Making Things Perfectly Queer,
“we queers have become locked into ways of seeing ourselves … that perpetuate our status as subcultural, parasitic, self-oppressive hangers-on: alienated, yet grabbing for crumbs or crusts and wishfully making this into a whole meal” (104).
While the “crumbs or crusts” Doty specifically refers to are queer elements of heterocentrist mainstream texts, it is hard not to see Buck in this comment, literally left with crumbs of wedding cake in the place of a “meal” of queer sexual fulfillment and acceptance.
At the outset of this essay I briefly mentioned Chuck&Buck’s appropriation of certain melodramatic tropes, such as Buck’s frequent crying, and I would like to return to that point here. In shot 16 of the wedding sequence, as the music — the melos of melodrama — for Chuck and Carlyn’s first dance ends, Buck’s theme song, “Freedom of the Heart,” fades in. An acoustic-guitar version of this song has already played at various points in the film, typically accompanying or connoting Buck’s childhood memories, but the specific version used here at the end, which is more upbeat and celebratory and includes drums, bass, banjo, and full vocal harmonies, is used at only one other time, when Buck travels by car from his home town to Los Angeles. Thus, through its uplifting tenor and its deployment earlier in the narrative, we can conclude that this music is meant to make us feel happy for Buck, celebrating with him a transitional moment in his life when he is moving on to bigger and better things. Played here, as Buck stands watching Chuck kiss Carlyn as he stands idly by, cake plate in hand, it feels subtly ironic to me. It does work on me emotionally, causing me to feel uplifted and wanting a happy resolution for Buck, but I cannot escape the uneasiness it provokes in me as well. Why should I feel happy for a queerly identified man who is still so infatuated with his straight-passing first love that he has to sublimate his feelings and desires into consumption of the guy’s wedding cake? The fact that the film’s story is told mostly from Buck’s point of view may help to explain the seeming naiveté of this contradictory ending, but as a critical viewer I am not completely satisfied.
If there is a more than superficially positive way to view Buck’s future prospects in light of Chuck&Buck’s conclusion — and I think the film queerly repudiates superficial positivity even as it plays with it in its closing sequence — it may be via the concept of play, which, in the form of “camp,” is often linked to queerness and queer production and reception strategies. Jack Babuscio unequivocally declares that
“[t]he term camp describes those elements in a person, situation or activity which express, or are created by, a gay sensibility” (40).
And Doty notes that
“camp and the sociopolitical continue to be mainstays of queer humor, particularly as gay and lesbian producers and audiences have been sharing and combining these two forms/strategies more and more since the mid-1970s” (Flaming Classics 79).
In the context of Chuck&Buck, itself a queerly humorous text depicting an emotionally immature stalker’s odyssey through rejection toward forgiveness and “freedom of the heart,” play is most often evoked in an explicitly sexual way, as when Buck proposes to Chuck that they play “one of those games where you stick your dick in my mouth and I stick mine in yours,” or when Chuck pulls a toy truck from underneath his back during his sexual encounter with Buck in Buck’s motel room. Disturbing as the connection between childhood game-playing and queer sexual experimentation may be to many, in Chuck&Buck it is depicted in a humorous yet (melo-)dramatically resonant way that, I believe, asks its audience to accept it as very real and potentially dangerous to its participants. Such resonance is evinced, for example, in Buck's repeated claims that his and Chuck’s early sexual activities “made me this way,” i.e., emotionally immature, yet the pair’s early sexual experiences are also narrativized as a phenomenon that can be moved through and incorporated into a more adult self, as Buck seems to do by the end of the film.
It is this very pairing of childlike play and queer sexuality, which Chuck&Buck depicts in the unfolding of Buck’s obsessive stalkerism, that offers the most hope for Buck and for queer expression in general. If queer sexual “play,” particularly between straight- or at least non-strictly-gay-identifying men, were more widely accepted in U.S. culture, then characters like Chuck and Buck would have no need to repress or hide parts of their sexuality, and the Bucks of the world would not be marginalized from places of social privilege on sexual grounds.
For while Buck may still be emotionally immature and thus something of a social outcast even during the wedding sequence, it is also true that in the film’s diegesis immaturity is validated by Beverly as being part of adulthood: “I’m a mess!” she admits to Buck during their last conversation. Chuck&Buck’s conclusion suggests that the immaturity/ maturity binary is not so firm as some might think, and that real growth and true freedom of the heart is achieved by fluid integration of younger selves rather than dualistic denial of the past. Hence, having demonstrated his ability to grow and mature in this fluidly queer, playful way, Buck earns his place at the wedding. But that place is still that of an outsider, an ex-relationship of Chuck’s. This conclusion makes me wonder if, despite the indicators that he has grown up some — his suit and tie, his appropriate behavior in the restaurant where he sees Chuck, his new job at the theater — Buck is still framed as an outsider at the ceremony due to the politics of his sexuality.
“Freedom of the heart”
A reversal of the exclusionary politics of heterocentric culture in favor of a new social practice of inclusion forms the basis of Doty’s broadest definition of queerness, a definition that Doty also connects to the concept of play:
“through playfully occupying various queer positions … we (whether straight-, gay-, lesbian-, or bi-identifying) are offered spaces to express a range of erotic desire frequently linked in Western cultures to nostalgic and romantic adult conceptions of childhood” (Making Things 4).
This queer play of erotic desire is inimical to heterocentrist, middle-class norms, a point that proto-queer film theorist Parker Tyler emphasizes when he brazenly declares in Screening the Sexes:
“I violently repudiate what is commonly known as respectability, which itself is an antiquated strategy of the dishonest bourgeois establishment” (xxiii).
I cannot help but hear Buck in this statement, and Buck’s immaturity and stalkerism in Chuck&Buck can be read in this context as a form of resistance to heteronormative pressures, a creation of space and time for his queer erotic desires in the present and future. This is precisely what makes the last shot of the film simultaneously pleasurable and disturbing. I want Buck to “grow up” and move on from his obsession with Chuck Sitter, and perhaps give up his voyeurism, but I do not want him to give up his playful brand of queerness in the process. Chuck&Buck shows us that even the most ostensibly homophobic man, Sam, can learn to accept queerness and even tolerate being sexually propositioned if such things are approached playfully and honestly. And I hope for Buck that he continues to “out” his queer desires in this way rather than repress them under his new jacket and tie and adult ways. For if Buck is to really experience “Freedom of the Heart,” which must include the freedom to pursue his sexual desires and claim his queer identity, he will need a free space, a playful space, a truly queer space in which to do it. The principle way in which Chuck&Buck confounds a queerly positioned reader like myself is that it fails to depict such a space for Buck, or even to show us that he is aware that it exists.
However, it is this ambiguity around openly declaring its queerness that makes Chuck&Buck such a pleasurable, rich, and, as I will argue by way of conclusion, potentially subversive text. Its very title, Chuck&Buck, printed without any spaces between the words and the ampersand, emphasizes the strength of the queer sexual bond between the two titular characters (I imagine the two of them spooning) and illustrates Eve Sedgwick’s point that
“[t]he double-edged potential for injury in the scene of gay coming out … results partly from the fact that the erotic identity of the person who receives the disclosure is apt also to be implicated in, hence perturbed by it” (Epistemology 81).
Obviously, Chuck is implicated in Buck’s gayness, and although Buck never makes an explicit verbal claim to gay identity — he never says “I am gay” — he nevertheless comes out through his deeds, desires, and persistence in pursuing Chuck, forcing the latter to acknowledge his own implicit gayness. Further, although the film’s strategy of showing gayness without verbally declaring it as such could be read as reinforcement of the structure of the closet, perpetuating the “open secret” constitutive of homosexual existence in Western culture that Sedgwick describes in Epistemology of the Closet (22, 71-2), the delight Chuck&Buck takes in modulating between avowal and elision suggests to me that there is more going on here than simple homophobia, although homophobic disavowal and the market potential thereof may be part of the equation.
However, even if Chuck&Buck participates in shoring up the closet, perpetuating the queer man-boy stereotype and denying Buck access to a truly queer space, it does so, as Geoff King points out, in the diegetic context of Buck’s childlike naiveté:
“[T]he inappropriate nature of Buck’s fixation is located more in its painful and embarrassingly non-adult qualities than in the specifically sexual dimension” (243).
Though I am skeptical about how easily we can separate Buck’s non-adultness from his sexuality — one of the aims of this study has been to point out the frequency with which our culture conflates man-boyish immaturity with non-heterosexuality — I am nevertheless inclined to accept King’s argument here, which continues:
“The use of a naive-but-honest childlike perspective to highlight the superficiality of particular constructions of adult normality is … articulated here in a manner that is unusually unsettling” (King 243).
I agree that Buck’s innocence functions as a device by which the film exposes the superficiality and hypocrisy of compulsorily heterosexual middle-class adulthood, and what’s more, I see that naiveté as something that Buck, post- the events of the film, may yet transform into a more aware and socially acceptable form of queer play.
Further, if at the end of the film Buck doesn’t know what he is, or at least never expresses it in terms of a stable identity, I take this to be a productive ambiguity, one that undermines fixed identity categories that can be used to confine or contain. The unspoken quality of Buck’s queerness leaves him a much more ambiguous, free, and potentially subversive figure than, say, the stereotypical “tragic queer” or “sad young man” who features in so many queer and non-queer films, or the homosexual character played only for laughs (Dyer 117). So while Buck may well inhabit the same general terrain as a stereotypical queer man-boy, his fate is not sealed by the end of the narrative. This “Freedom of the Heart” opens up endless possibilities, an empowering potential with which I think we are asked to identify in the film’s final shot of Buck smiling hopefully as his theme song plays.
Lastly, all of Chuck&Buck’s seeming coyness around queerness does not erase or change the gay content of the film itself. As King notes,
“[f]eatures such as Chuck and Buck demonstrate the indie sector’s continued potential for generating gay/lesbian and more diffuse impressions of queerness…” (249).
It is in this second respect that Chuck&Buck is particularly effective. For not only does Chuck&Buck delight in making us uncomfortable, playing Buck’s queer stalkerism and Sam’s over-the-top, homophobic machismo for laughs (or at least squirms), in the end the film does challenge us — and I think this is the most exciting aspect of its final sequence — to see Buck, a decidedly gay man in deed if not in label, as a comic hero who prevails despite the shortcomings and hypocrisies of straight culture as embodied in his homophobic counterpart, Chuck. In depicting male queerness as diffuse, the film belies the very straightness of its straight-identifying characters, as we see when Buck's relations with the men around him repeatedly draw out their own repressed homosexual desires. It is this last fact that gives me the most hope about the cultural work Chuck&Buck has done and has yet to do, for it shows its audiences that queerness isn’t just germane to the man-boys and the socially marginalized but is an oft-closeted potential that exists in many if not all of us. This embracing of Doty’s inclusive concept of queerness is Chuck&Buck’s most important contribution to the increased queer media visibility that is even now reaching a new high-water mark, and whose next phase must invariably lead to wider critical and cultural acknowledgment of the non-straightness that pervades our media products and subjectivities.
1. This essay was originally planned as the first chapter in my dissertation project. My dissertation explores the independent cinema phenomenon of the 1990s — its industrial practices, economics, and engagement with queer discourses — through an in-depth study of the films and star text of writer/ director Kevin Smith. As my choice of texts here and in the larger work reveals, I am particularly interested in the queerness of independent films that are not explicitly produced or marketed as Queer Cinema and address sub-cultural but not ostensibly LGBTQ audiences.
2. Shot on digital video, Chuck&Buck cost an estimated $250,000 to make and earned just over $1 million in the year of its release. As an example of a fairly successful independent ‘art-house’ film, Chuck&Buck exists in a border territory between mainstream Hollywood cinema, which “would never make [such a] movie … because it would be considered too threatening to a young male audience” (Holden E1) and other independent films with explicit queer political agendas, such as the work of NQC directors Gregg Araki and Todd Haynes. I suggest that the liminal positioning of Chuck&Buck has as much to do with its subject matter as its budget. For example, The Blair Witch Project, a non-queer independent film made on one-tenth of Chuck&Buck’s budget and released a year earlier, made over $140 million, one hundred and forty times what Chuck&Buck grossed.
3. Popular reviews of Chuck&Buck, whether positive or negative, tend to elide or at least downplay the sexual nature of Buck’s obsession with Chuck. For example, Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times mentions only that “[Buck] is in love with Chuck,” and Jonathan Foreman of the New York Post, while accurately noting that the film “ends in a way that’s less than entirely satisfying,” concludes his review by declaring that “the movie’s main weakness is a cop-out failure to explain just what happened in childhood to make Buck — and Chuck — the way they are,” a misreading of the film’s diegesis that makes me wonder if Foreman willfully ignored the dialogue at certain points, as in the scene where Buck confronts Carlyn and tells her that he and Chuck “did sex things” as youths and that in so doing “[Chuck] made me this way.” I do not mean to vilify any specific reviewer or review; I mean to point out that of the nine reviews of Chuck&Buck I found in U.S. newspapers and magazines, only three mention the titular characters’ sexual relationship directly. And each of these does so using either sterilized terms like “sexual experimentation” (New York Post) and “sexual play” (New York Times), which work to contain the threat of Chuck and Buck’s adult homosexuality by confining it to the ‘experimental’ past of childhood, or generalized phrases like “[things] get sexually strange” (Newsday), which says very little at all. In a variation on this trend, in his more explicitly homophobic review for Time magazine, Richard Schickel raises the issue of Buck’s homosexuality only to downplay its importance via a ridiculous, parenthetical non sequitur, asking “[who], outside the Christian right, cares anymore about anyone’s sexual orientation?” (This is a particularly obtuse observation in light of the success of the religious right in exploiting homophobia in their campaign against “gay marriage” in 2004.) Schickel asserts that it is Buck’s voyeurism, not his homosexuality, that is ultimately what “disturbs us” about the character and causes Schickel to give Chuck&Buck a negative review: “Any movie that sentimentalizes stalking ought to be shunned.”
4. As a character who is both a voyeur and is involved in a possible sexual identity crisis, Buck has much in common with Norman Bates, who, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), spies through a peephole at Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) just before he assumes his “Mrs. Bates” costume/ identity and murders her in the now-famous shower scene. Doty uses Norman Bates’s voyeuristic behavior to argue against desexualized readings of the character, saying that “anyone who constructs a peephole in order to watch women undressing is not asexual” though he also admits that he has difficulty deciding “what to make of Norman Bates psychosexually” (Flaming Classics 155). These comments apply equally well to my reading of the sexually ambiguous Buck, especially since his voyeurism, which on two occasions involves his watching Carlyn, can be interpreted (as Bates’s is) as a possible “straightening” or complexifying of his queerness. Interestingly, I am not the first to draw this parallel: one popular reviewer of Chuck&Buck makes explicit the connection between Buck and Bates, noting that “[experiencing Chuck&Buck] is a bit like being asked to accept dear old Norman Bates as Huck Finn” (Rainer 57).
5. Alexander Doty notes that “as a genre comedy is fundamentally queer since it encourages rule-breaking, risk-taking, inversions, and perversions in the face of straight patriarchal norms” (Flaming Classics 81). Also, as Geoff King points out, Chuck&Buck’s status as an independent production permits it more leeway than a studio film to disrupt or modify its generic conventions: “[T]he distinctive feature of the independent sector … [is] the greater potential scope for difference. Some independent features are quite subversive of dominant genre conventions” (166).
6. The motif of the domineering mother is further emphasized in a scene deleted from the film but available on the DVD version. In this scene, we learn from a conversation Buck has with a guest at Chuck’s promotion party that it was Buck’s mother who intervened and terminated his friendship with Chuck: “We were like brothers — then my mom said we couldn’t be friends anymore … She didn’t like him so much … She thought he was a bad influence.”
7. Interestingly, screenwriter Mike White hates this sequence and did not want it included in the film, feeling that it “[pushes] the envelope in terms of how insane Buck gets” (DVD commentary 2000). White reveals that it was written and shot in order to appease singer Marlo Thomas, whose seminal children’s classic “Free to Be You and Me” was originally slated to be the film’s theme song and who felt that the film’s lack of specificity about the extent of Carlyn’s knowledge of Chuck and Buck’s sexual history was confusing. Thomas’s song was ultimately pulled from the soundtrack anyway, though the sequence remains at director Arteta’s insistence and over White’s objections.
8. It is notable that the children’s theater where Buck stages Hank and Frank is concurrently rehearsing a production of The Wizard of Oz and that Buck uses a found copy of the Oz script as a model when he writes his play, to the point of including a green-faced witch figure recast in Hank and Frank as a threat to male homosociality/homosexuality. Oz is a well-known example of a cinematic text embraced by queer culture, particularly with respect to the gay star cult surrounding Judy Garland and the queerness of the “Cowardly Lion” character portrayed by Bert Lahr. In fact, discussing the cinematic version of Oz, Doty claims it as a predominantly queer text — specifically, an adolescent lesbian fantasy — that heterocentric readers have appropriated, eliding its queer (lesbian) elements:
“[Here] is a film about an adolescent girl who has an elaborate dream-fantasy in which there is not a whisper of heterosexual romance — not even displaced onto other figures … If anything, a heterosexual reading of The Wizard of Oz is appropriative, and could be considered subordinate to lesbian readings” (Flaming Classics 51-2).
Doty’s argument in this chapter is quite convincing, and its resonances with my reading of Chuck&Buck definitely enrich the queerness of the latter film, particularly given Buck’s friendship with child actor Tommy (Gino Buccola), who portrays both (queer) Young Frank in Buck’s play and the (queer) Cowardly Lion in the Oz production. Further, on the extra-textual level, Buck’s one possible heterosexual moment in Chuck&Buck, a scene with a female character named Jolie (Meredith Tucker) who he meets at Chuck’s promotion party, was cut down in postproduction (DVD commentary 2000), paralleling the queerness-enhancing changes made to the Oz screenplay under producer Arthur Freed:
“One important result of Freed’s demands was the gradual elimination of all the heterosexual elements in earlier script drafts” (Flaming Classics 52).
9. Writer Mike White claims that he originally wrote the screenplay strictly from Buck’s point of view, i.e., there were no scenes in the film without Buck in them. Once the production got underway, he and director Miguel Arteta added scenes involving Chuck and Carlyn (DVD Commentary 2000). Further, as Geoff King notes in his discussion of independent film form in American Independent Cinema, “[a] warm color palate was confected at the … [post-production] stage to create a nostalgic impression, fitting to the state of mind of the immature Buck (screenwriter Mike White), in the formally more conventional Chuck and Buck” (120, emphasis added). Hence even at the level of color the film is beholden to Buck’s subjectivity.
10. On the director’s commentary found on the Chuck&Buck DVD, Mike White and Miguel Arteta discuss at some length the response of audiences to the sequence where Chuck goes to Buck’s motel room to have sex with him, noting that many audience members refuse to accept Chuck as gay, believing that “He would never do that!” Still others feel that the film should have a “bloody ending,” as does one friend of White’s who says, “I kept waiting for Chuck to pull out a gun and shoot that loathsome pervert.” This desire to see non-heteronormative sexuality punished through violence is echoed — and ironically reversed — in one popular review which claims that the film “seems set up to enjoy the horror as [a] single-minded madman [Buck] completely deconstructs the well-ordered life of someone we don’t quite mind seeing destroyed [Chuck], the whole thing tending toward violence” (Hunter C12, emphasis added). This review accuses Buck of initiating violence by invading Chuck’s “well-ordered” life; the reviewer later says that the film is “full of hostility and aggression.” Though there is a case to be made for the intrusive nature of Buck’s stalking behaviors — which the film presents as disturbing yet comedic and decidedly non-violent — I tend to read such pronouncements as being at least partially the projections of (a) viewers who are unable to take any form of stalkerism lightly and/or (b) heterocentric viewers who seek to resolve their own homophobic anxieties through (representations of) violence.
11. At a recent conference presentation of part of this paper it was pointed out to me that Buck’s jacket, being in a plaid pattern, can be read as connoting man-boyishness and therefore indicates a refusal on Buck’s part to assimilate into adulthood. I think this is an accurate reading, especially since Sam, hardly a model of conventional adulthood, admires the jacket as well (at least on Buck). Nevertheless, this costume change is a significant one for Buck and certainly constitutes at least a superficial move toward adulthood for him in any case.
12. In fairness to Buck, the original idea to have him move in across the hall from Sam is suggested by Sam on the same night as the crotch-grabbing episode. However, this only reinforces the interpretation that their homosocial bond — in which Sam is a willing and active participant — has now placed them in permanent physical proximity to each other.
13. For an excellent discussion of the concept of queer time and space and the ways in which “[f]or queers, the separation between youth and adulthood quite simply does not hold,” see chapter 7 of Judith Halberstam’s In a Queer Time and Place (174).
14. Even the tagline on Chuck&Buck’s DVD cover, “When does a close friend become too close?” coyly suggests yet also elides its homoerotic content. In contrast, the tagline on the original Chuck&Buck movie poster read: “Remember those games we used to play?” While a bit more titillating than the DVD case tagline, this phrase is nevertheless vague enough to preserve the “surprise” of Buck’s (and Chuck’s!) gayness for the uninitiated viewer.
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