Uncle Buck (1989)

A lesser Hughes film, Uncle Buck lacks the multilayered emotional balance of his best work. What used to be resonant emotional filmmaking just feels manipulative here. Surprisingly, a 9 year-old Macaulay Culkin steals the show.


Del Griffith from “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” babysits Kevin from “Home Alone.”

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Nowdays Macaulay Culkin is the butt of child star jokes, but back in 1989, he sure had “star power” written all over him. It’s no wonder roles like this one landed him a place in cinematic history as Kevin in Home Alone; he plays the adorable yet precocious kid to perfection.

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The eponymous Uncle Buck is somewhat of a disappointment, and he’s ultimately the reason this is one of my least favorite of Hughes’ string of hits. John Candy did such a fantastic job as Del Griffith in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, striking the perfect balance between annoying and relatable. Uncle Buck, on the other hand, is mostly a good-hearted goofball, so we just feel sorry for him when people deride him. He’s too much of a good guy to justify the aggressiveness Tia and her mother direct at him, and he’s not cool enough that we’re thoroughly entertained by his antics.

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On the other side of the flawed equation that is Uncle Buck is Tia, the rebellious teenager. She hates Uncle Buck from the get-go, even though the guy cooks her breakfast and is perfectly civil to her. She comes across as a whiny little bitch, even though we’re shown how she takes care of her siblings when her mom is away.

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Alright, that made me smile. What an awesome birthday idea! No wonder the kids take to Buck right away.

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It’s not quite clear why Buck has such a bone to pick with Tia’s boyfriend. She’s a teenager, of course she’s gonna date suspicious dudes. What matters is that she’s resourceful and intelligent enough to get out of sticky situations.

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Tia should realize that Buck, as annoying as he is, is looking out for her. To get him in trouble by telling his girlfriend he’s seeing other women is just a shitty move. Tia isn’t acting decently, and yet she gets to get away with it because we’re supposed to agree with her that Buck is annoying. Sorry, but the dramatic structure of this movie is flawed.

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Buck goes to the party Tia’s at (how did he know where it was?) and stops Tia’s douche boyfriend from raping another girl, basically. That whole scene was confusing. What happened to Tia? We never know, except that she somehow got out of a bad situation fine on her own without Buck’s intervention. Which makes Buck’s kidnapping of the kid a weird, unnecessary turn of events. And if the kid is telling the truth about his lawyer dad, Buck is in serious trouble.

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Aaaaand everybody makes up just in time for the credits. What I always loved about Hughes’ movie endings is their ambiguity; there’s a sense of a temporary happy ending, but we know there is more trouble on the horizon, and we just choose to ignore them. We know the kids in Breakfast Club are gonna have a hard time relating after their weekend detention, or that Ferris Bueller and Cameron are gonna have a hard time remaining friends after high school. But here all we get is cheap resolution, and everyone leaves happy.

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