Try to imagine Forrest Gump recast as a sexual predator...

That's what director Miguel Arteta and writer Mike White did in 'Chuck & Buck'. Stephen Applebaum wonders what came over them
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The Independent Culture

Mike White had a comfortable job producing and writing for Dawson's Creek, but then he grew tired of storylines about "larger-than-life, heroic kids". He quit the show, and over nine days poured his frustration out onto paper. The result was Chuck & Buck, a darkly funny and ambiguous buddy film that subverts the bogus notion of the Holy Fool as perpetuated in movies like Forrest Gump.

Mike White had a comfortable job producing and writing for Dawson's Creek, but then he grew tired of storylines about "larger-than-life, heroic kids". He quit the show, and over nine days poured his frustration out onto paper. The result was Chuck & Buck, a darkly funny and ambiguous buddy film that subverts the bogus notion of the Holy Fool as perpetuated in movies like Forrest Gump.

Consequently, Buck (played by the 28-year-old White in the film) is not a sweet-natured simpleton; he is an obsessive, aggressively sexual man-child. When he unexpectedly reappears in the life of childhood friend Chuck (played by Chris Weitz, co-director of American Pie), now a record company executive in LA, it is not just the idea of rekindling their friendship that he is fixated upon, but everything they once shared. "This is like Forrest Gump as a sexual predator," says the film's director, 30-year-old Miguel Arteta, only half-joking.

The film met with uneasy laughter when it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival, some claiming that it sentimentalised stalking. In fact, it takes a compassionate and complex look at obsessive behaviour. It was this element that Arteta says he responded to most profoundly when he read White's screenplay - not least because he had previously been obsessed with someone himself. For this reason, Arteta initially felt that he was the wrong person to direct his friend's film. White convinced him otherwise, though. And as work on Chuck & Buck progressed, its making became a personal journey of discovery for Arteta (whose life had been overshadowed by his relationship with his emotionally abusive father). "It worked like free therapy," he says candidly. "I learned that the root of all obsession is usually you didn't get something you needed from your parents, and there's a huge hole left in your heart. So you keep misguidedly thinking that there's one person, or one thing, that's going to make it all okay. You have to find people that will help you forgive yourself, and forgive the people who damaged you. That is what happens to Buck in the film."

Arteta now declares himself "one tiny degree less crazy", though it is clear that both he and White still find navigating the adult world difficult. "We carry our childhood self with us forever," offers White down the line from America, in a voice as tremulous and hesitant as Buck's. "There's no shedding of skin. That's what Buck, in a very reductionist way, shows."

Part of this theme is transmitted through the film's oral-fixatedness. Characters are constantly seen sucking red sticks of liquorice or lollipops - but what looks at first like an innocent vestige of childhood behaviour, is later made to appear perverse by what passes between Chuck and Buck in a pivotal motel encounter. Despite Arteta's sensitive handling of this difficult scene, the director says it has added to the misconceptions some people have had about him since his acclaimed debut feature (as yet unreleased in the UK), Star Maps. "People think I am very twisted sexually," he says. "And several people, who have seen the two films, have told me, 'What Tarantino is to violence, you are to sex.' I don't know exactly what that means, but I guess I'm the Latino Tarantino," says the Puerto Rican.

Actually, it is clear that all these references to childhood serve partly as a satire of the cult of youth prevalent in America and of the dysfunctional underbelly of Hollywood. According to Arteta, the fascination with childhood has actually become an obsession in the States. "Kids at raves suck on pacifiers. The heads of internet companies wear t-shirts and tennis shoes and suck on lollipops. The reason I think that it's happening is we're the children of the therapy generation. Our parents, in the Seventies, used therapy to become well-adjusted. Today, I think we've rebelled and said, 'F--k that, I want to remain a twisted little child. That's what makes me special.'"

The problem is, he continues, "the child within us is a really inappropriate child, and he won't go away precisely because he's inappropriate. So you can see the audience getting attracted to Buck and then going, 'Oh shit, it's not a funny, I-should-hold-on-to-my-childhood kind of fantasy. That child that I'm trying to hold on to is one f--ked-up kid.'"

Arteta says he will continue to explore people's dysfunction, because self-repair is still a big question in his own life. But that begs the question: what will happen when he has finally repaired himself completely? "I will not be able to make anymore movies. But by that time I will be filthy rich and I'll live happily ever after."

'Chuck & Buck' (15) is out on Friday

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