Even during his days on Second City, John Candy was one of the most restrained and brilliant comedy personalities of his time, a man who had genuine wit and charisma, and garnered laughs by his quick timing alone. Before Chris Farley presented the assumption that in order for a large man to be funny he had to take falls and be the butt of violent physical gags, John Candy had a class to his humor that showed the heavy guy didn’t have to always be the subject of vicious antics and mean spirited humor. Sure, in “Uncle Buck,” Candy does take his hits and falls, but the entire movie is based more around his charm, razor sharp wit, and ability to improvise at the drop of a hat. Not that Chris Farley wasn’t a laugh riot, but heavy men could do more than provide laughs for the more attractive people in the movies.
“Uncle Buck” is a movie that just couldn’t work today, because a modern version would be too dependent on the over abundance of child personalities, where as director John Hughes managed to balance out the child to Candy ratio offering a balance of cute and funny between the personalities. Buck is a distant relative of his family’s who spends most of his life living by the bare minimum and keeping his long suffering girlfriend strung along hoping for a commitment. After her dad falls ill, mom Cindy has no choice but to ask her long lost brother in law Buck to come and take care of her three children, all of whom are enduring their own obstacles in life. When Buck arrives prepared to take over the house for Cindy and his brother, things are about as funny as they can be.
Buck is a man set in his ways who is used to living like a bachelor and has to adapt to the needs of children and a whiny teenager who is insistent on being treated like an adult in spite of her petulance. Candy has an excellent dynamic with stars Gaby Hoffman and Macaulay Culkin, both of whom are mainly supporting players in a film that’s about Buck’s battles with his niece Tia who engages in a civil war with him in an effort to proclaim dominance in the household. Buck’s primary conflict involves Tia who wants Buck gone, no matter how much she hurts him. And Buck simply holds his ground and never lets her dampen his insistence on showing he can be a responsible and crucial part of his distant family.
Most of the moments with his small niece and nephew Miles and Maizy are mainly played for laughs and giggles. They all work well as Buck shows he can approach children with authority while also being wholly uninformed as to the basics of managing a household. When Buck learns his sister and brother in law won’t be home nephew Miles’ birthday, he celebrates with an obscenely large birthday breakfast and party. The excess is so amazing, Miles barely notices his parents aren’t home. He also manages to horrify both Miles and Maizy when he’s certain they aren’t brushing their teeth as they should be. And in one of the most memorable moments of the film that is trademark John Hughes, son Miles interrogates Buck intently with rapid fire questions about his life to which he responds with dead pan straight forward responses.
Buck is a character that seems incompetent at first glance, but is a man who may have seen too much of how painful the world can be, and is afraid to really take a step forward and grow up, and ultimately this reflects on Tia who learns her own lessons about the cruelty of life. “Uncle Buck” is John Candy at his best, an endless stream of laughs and excellent dialogue, along with down to Earth characters that feed off of one another while contributing to the comedy and drama. It’s classic John Hughes cinema for the last gasp of the eighties. One of the many excellent family films from director and writer John Hughes, “Uncle Buck” hasn’t quite shown its wrinkles with a leading star like John Candy who is witty, lovable, charming, and downright hysterical, while Hughes keeps the film’s focus on family and the love and pain they can cause one another. This is definitely a gem in the John Hughes library.