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Uncle Buck

***
1989

‘…Hughes and Candy may take a sloppy, anything-goes approach here, but it works…’

I come to praise Uncle Buck, not to bury him. A sizable hit for Universal at the time, this John Hughes comedy comes at teenage life from an alternate angle from his classic work (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller); rather than zero in on the Illinois youngsters so often his subject, Hughes focuses on an older character, a significant change in that most of the adults are caricatured in his more youth-centred pieces. Floated as a vehicle for Robin Williams, Uncle Buck is manifested in ideal form by John Candy, who has the look, but also the nuances, to make something special of the unsuitable baby-sitter who turns out to be a kids’ best friend.

The presence of Macaulay Culkin as one of Buck’s charges gives some clue as to where Hughes went next; hugely popular slapstick via the Home Alone movies. Uncle Buck is one of Hughes’ few efforts to consider an adult world; when a family illness calls parents away, Uncle Buck (Candy) is the last resort replacement. He wows the moppets with his slovenly ways but something more is required for eldest daughter Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly), who is acting out in all kinds of ways. She resists Buck’s appeal, but events contrive to unite the two of them against the lousy go-nowhere guy she’s attracted…

Remade in Malayalam as Uncle Bun, and I have to say that’s a bun I’d certainly find tempting, Uncle Buck is gentle enough to be considered a character comedy; there’s no big finale, no race to attend a school show, no real melodrama, and that’s all to the film’s advantage. Candy makes more of his character than a slob; Buck makes lifestyle choices that he can back up with logic, but his interaction with the Russell family shows him the error of his ways. In the meantime, it’s funny to see him call the school principal a ‘brain-dead skank’ or wrestling with the washing machine and microwave combo; it’s easy comedy, but done will skill.

Various tv show have attempted to capture the Uncle Buck magic, but failed; it’s actually hard to make good comedy, and Hughes and Candy may take a sloppy, anything-goes approach here, but it works. And any film that features both Young MC’s Bust a Move and Tone Loc’s seminal tone poem Wild Thing on the soundtrack just can’t go wrong; he’s got the tunes and the moves, and we all kind of need an Uncle Buck in our lives right now. He’s on Netflix UK right now if you need him.

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  1. Greatest film of all time. John Candy is maybe one of my favourite comedians, up there with Robin Williams and John Belushi. The children are hilarious and, y’know, it’s just funny – nothing more, nothing less. John Hughes is a legend – if you make Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Uncle Buck and The Breakfast Club… well. What more needs to be said?

    • It’s pretty good, and completely agree about Hughes, his best work is classic stuff. I’ve covered his Breakfast Club sequel elsewhere in this blog…

  2. A nostalgic favorite of mine. My dad used to try to replicate the gigantic pancakes John Candy cooked up for the kiddos. We just didn’t have a big enough griddle. John Candy will always be a favorite childhood entertainer for me. It is sad, however, how much he sunk into depression and typecast limitations the years before his death. A big man with a big heart and big load to carry on his shoulders…

    • I don’t know Candy was so unhappy. It seems in tune with the Hughes universe that he’d have some inner turmoil. Nice, easy comic style here…

      • Back when Ebert came out with reviews and essays during the early 2000s, he wrote an article about how he ran into John at a restaurant, eating and smoking by himself. He spoke of sad times, and I believe it was only a year before he died…

  3. ah! good call. I forgot about this film! And it is a sweet one. Candy was excellent. And it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role.

    • Planes aside, it’s Candy’s best role, and shows Hughes’ light touch with domestic issues….

  4. I’ve always had a soft spot for Uncle Buck. Funny and feel-good in all the right ways. That breakfast scene with the pancakes! The quick-fire Q&A scene between Culkin & Candy. The teacher’s mole scene. And these are just from my hazy memory. Candy is really good in this. And so is Culkin, to be fair.

    • While it was a hit, it feels like a forgotten film right now; very slight, and yet the gags are still funny and the interplay with the family is sweet. No ground-breaker, but worth nurturing a soft spot for to be sure!

  5. I remember enjoying this. I always thought Candy was underused in the movies. He didn’t get to play many interesting characters like he invented on SCTV like Johnny LaRue or even the Guy With the Snake on his Face. I guess on the big screen you get typecast as the big guy. Even Uncle Buck is pretty one-dimensional, as I recall. But that’s the kind of movie it is.

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