Original release: August 16th, 1989
Running time: 99 minutes
Writer and director: John Hughes
Cast: John Candy, Jean Kelly, Gaby Hoffmann, Macaulay Culkin, Amy Madigan, Elaine Bromka, Laurie Metcalf
There’ll always be that one family member we’re reluctant to call on when we’re in a jam. The gossipy aunt, the grouchy uncle, the pushy cousin or the unpleasant niece who’ll run up your phone bill when she baby-sits the kids…
We all have them and they’re hard to avoid at get-togethers – when they do bother to turn up – if we’re brave enough to invite them, that is.
Uncle Buck (John Candy) is no different. He drinks, gambles, chain smokes, is unable to hold down a job or commit to his girlfriend and he’s a complete disaster to have around the house. That’s why Cindy Russell (Elaine Bromka) is hesitant to let her husband Bob (Garrett M. Brown) give his brother a call to come and look after their three kids. Her dad’s just had a heart attack and they have to go out of town to visit him.
With no one else available on such short notice, the Russells have no other choice. Eldest daughter Tia (Jean Kelly) is not too pleased about the situation. 15 years old and with a giant chip on her shoulder, she deeply resents her parents and any authority figures and therefore doesn’t take too kindly to Buck’s intrusions on her life. 8-year-old Miles (Macaulay Culkin), and 6-year-old Maizy (Gaby Hoffman) are easier to please and the oafish uncle hits it off right away with them with his brand of off-beat humour, unhealthy meals, relaxed rules on housekeeping and feeding the family dog.
This is the story of how the world’s most unlikeliest person transforms a bickering family into one that comes to appreciate each other while also learning a thing or two about himself.
John Hughes mixes teen angst with family comedy here, a formula that worked well in his best known movies such as Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).
Hughes’ characters are traditionally depicted as struggling with the transition from adolescences to adulthood and the same can be seen here, but while Tia is the eponymous scowling teen, it’s actually Buck who struggles the most and the story largely remains his.
While it’s comedy isn’t as slapstick as in Home Alone (1990), there are some genuinely funny moments, like when Miles interrogates Buck, resulting in the line “I’m a kid, that’s my job”.
Culkin and Candy made a great comedy pair and it’s partly their facial expressions together with perfect timing that has always made Uncle Buck one of my favourite of Hughes’ films, especially in the scene where he surprises Miles on his birthday. That’s the kind of surprise I’ve been waiting for since 1989!
It’s a movie I watched many times together with nieces and nephew when they were very small, and though they might not remember it as well as I do, I always like to tell them I’m their version of Uncle Buck! There was no way I was ever responsible enough to look after kids who spent their time trying to figure out the effects of anti-freeze on each other while I was blissfully unaware and microwaving ice cream in the kitchen.
Nevertheless, as they’re all grown up now and since I’m pretty sure I haven’t turned out to be that much of an Uncle Buck, I hope they’ll call me if they’re ever in a jam or having a get-together. After all, I’d never let the family dog drink from the toilet!
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .