At 25: “Uncle Buck”

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August 16, 2014 by billysparrow

Uncle_buckUncle Buck

Released: August 16, 1989

Starring: John Candy, Jean Louisa Kelly, Amy Madigan, Macaulay Culkin, Gaby Hoffmann, Jay Underwood, Elaine Bromka, Garrett M. Brown

“Uncle Buck” has a memorable scene set in a bowling alley. “Uncle Buck” has a memorable scene featuring a giant stack of pancakes. “Uncle Buck” stars John Candy.

These three simple facts go a little way toward explaining why I love “Uncle Buck” so much. Perhaps I should stop there. Or maybe I should go on for another thousand words. Eh, let’s go with the latter.

“Uncle Buck”–the story of the titular black sheep of the family (played, duh, by John Candy) being called on to watch his brother’s kids when his sister-in-law’s father has a heart attack and the brother and his wife decide they have no other options–is not my favorite John Candy movie (it probably comes in third, behind “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and “The Great Outdoors”), but I might have watched it more than any other. This is partly because it is on more frequently (and, for a while, I was fascinated by the edited-for-TV version that, for some reason, cut out the scene where Uncle Buck tries to pee in the tiny urinal in the school bathroom), but also because it has some of the most memorable John Candy scenes. Let us delve into them, shall we? (If you’ve answered “No,” please proceed to another website…no hard feelings.)

(Hey, I’ll be honest…I have hard feelings toward that jerk who stopped reading. But, you, I like.)

Top of the list for me is Uncle Buck’s encounter with Pooter the Clown (Mike Starr), which comes soon after Uncle Buck prepares the world’s largest stack of pancakes for Miles’s (Macaulay Culkin’s) birthday. “Get in your mouse” never fails to make me laugh. I am, it should be noted, a fairly simple man.

I’m also partial to Uncle Buck’s five-year plan, which always runs through my head whenever someone tells me they’ve quit smoking, or when I see someone smoking a pipe.

And I consider them two separate scenes, but YouTube has helpfully packed into one clip both Uncle Buck’s one-sided phone call with Chanice (Amy Madigan) and his struggle to find the correct big white house.

And finally, there is what I’d hazard a guess is the favorite scene of many “Uncle Buck” lovers, Buck’s meeting with assistant principal Anita Hoargarth, with its memorable closing line (bonus: check out a young Anna Chlumsky next to Maizy [Gaby Hoffmann] at 2:07).

And while we’re on the subject of kids, I would like to nominate Culkin and Hoffmann as the best brother and sister in an ’80s movie, maybe in any movie. They’re cute without being cloying, clever without being contrived, and, really, all-around fantastic.

Culkin is particularly great in his first real chance to shine on film (though he was previously in “Rocket Gibraltar,” the movie that sold me on the idea of having a Viking funeral when I go…come see me off!). It would’ve been a genuine tragedy if he hadn’t gone on to greater fame, because he’s just so good here. It’s almost enough to make me forget that people are now paying money to see him do pizza-related versions of Velvet Underground songs.

But Culkin and Hoffmann aren’t the only ones in the movie to steal some scenes. Who can forget the magic of Pal (Dennis Cockrum) and his toothpick? Also, note that this movie is so great that it makes a Perry Como song seem unbelievably cool.

And, yes, I did imitate Pal’s toothpick flip many times in my youth, sometimes successfully.

Perhaps the only downside to the movie is, well, its main plot point. The push and pull between Uncle Buck and Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly) gets a little tired and repetitive at times, and Jay Underwood seems stuck between playing Bug as a goofball and a flat-out creep. And–look, I don’t care if I spoil “Uncle Buck” for you–Tia’s reconciliation with her mother at the end of the movie seems to come out of nowhere. How does Bug, whom her mother doesn’t even seem to know about, attempting (or maybe he did…I’ve never been clear) to date rape Tia bring her to a long, wordless embrace with her mother that’s broken by her mother saying, “It’s gonna be real different, I promise,” without even knowing why Tia is hugging her? Hell if I know. But I guess the movie had to end somehow. And if we had to get through that to get that final shot of Uncle Buck waving goodbye to Tia, then I guess it’s worth it. I don’t know why, but somehow that always gets to me.


And so we have reached the end of another At 25, and, improbably, I have kept myself from breaking the 1,000-word mark in summarizing my feelings on “Uncle Buck.” This is really quite something. I think I might reward myself with a giant stack of pancakes. Or maybe I’ll go bowling. Or maybe I’ll just think about John Candy and ponder his greatness for a bit. Like I do on most days.


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