An Analysis Of John Candy’s Role In ‘Uncle Buck’ (1989)

Image Credit: filmfreakcentral.net
Image Credit: filmfreakcentral.net

‘Uncle Buck’ is a comedy classic that warms the heart and showcases hilarity via the protagonist of the narrative, Uncle Buck, portrayed by the late, great John Candy – a comedian of whom I have admired since I viewed ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ (1987), where Candy took on the role of Del Griffith, a loud & lively soul who is perceived as an irritant for the exceeding exuberance of his persona by his co-star Steve Martin’s character Neal Page.

This is mirrored in ‘Uncle Buck’ as Buck’s extroverted nature is shunned by his on-screen niece, Tia Russell (Jean Louise Kelly). Buck, despite facing adversity from other characters within the narrative, manages to uphold his dynamic demeanour while also adopting a new role: that of the doting uncle; something which was conceived through an epiphany later on in the narrative where ‘Buck’ contemplates his current situation in life regarding the future with his on-and-off girlfriend, Chanice (Amy Madigan).

It is significant that, as the narrative progresses, Buck’ s maturity and attitude towards life does too. The linear narrative synchronises with the development of Candy’s character, which is rather interesting and somehow poignant as the audience witnesses the protagonist transform into a responsible and caring family figure, something which was unearthed throughout his time as the guardian of his nieces Tia (Jean Louise Kelly) and Maisy (Gaby Hoffmann) as well as his nephew Miles (Macaulay Culkin) in his brother and sister-in-law’s absence.

Despite becoming more ‘mature’ as the film progresses, Buck’s zest for life and comical character are elements that are utilised continuously, thus grasping the attention of the demographic with much success. Candy delivered the protagonist’s quick-witted lines with such conviction. The script for ‘Uncle Buck’ is clever, comical and captivating, as essentially there is never a dull moment. This is largely due to Candy’s character Buck Russell, a work-shy commitment-phobe who, at first, refuses to settle down due to his easy-going nature. One of the most humorous lines in which Candy delivered during the role was centred around this notion in one of the opening scenes, where Chanice (Amy Madigan) scolds Buck for his refusal to commit to her. Chanice says: ‘I would just like to hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet before I die’. Buck replies with: ‘I’ll get you a mouse and a piece of sheet metal’. It’s quick and perhaps harsh in the written form, but this is a prime example of Candy’s quick-witted and ultimately lovable brilliance, and this is just one example of countless pieces of dialogue that contains the same high-quality humour.

A scenario which truly showcases Candy’s excellence is the scene where ‘Buck’ is questioned by his nephew Miles (Culkin), who says ‘you have much more nose hair than my dad’, to which Buck replies ‘how nice of you to notice’. This highlighted just how much of a comic genius Candy was, and what a classic performance he put forward in the movie. No more so than in ‘Uncle Buck’ was Candy ever so definitively captivating in such short spurts as in his delivery of the one-liners that decorated the script.

Another aspect in which Candy executes with heightened hilarity is the role of the ‘embarrassing uncle’, one which is ingrained both in the narrative in addition to being a staple stereotype within society. A scene which particularly showcases this stereotype is when Buck retrieves his niece Tia (Kelly) from school in an old, worn-out car with a rickety engine that makes a loud bang every time it stops (which is comical in itself), much to the dismay of Tia who is sat with her boyfriend. Buck essentially cramps his nieces ‘style’, which as a viewer is humorous and relatable to witness, as many have experienced a similar situation when they were adolescents, I’m sure. The ‘engine’ saga is a running gag that is featured throughout the narrative, and despite being repeated several times, it is still as humorous as the first time. In the same scene, Tia informs her uncle that her boyfriend is called ‘Bug’, to which Candy quips ‘what’s his last name? Spray?’ This particular line written alongside the broken car, gifts the scene the right amount of slapstick and comedy in delivery, which is of tribute to the quality of the writing and, of course, Candy’s performance.

Candy intertwines both the audible element of comedy with the notion of slapstick, which can be as equally amusing as verbal-based humour – in this case, it most certainly is. Candy cleverly conveys Buck as a clumsy character, and historically, the notion of ‘clumsiness’ throughout film has been symbolic in the creation of comedy, with other classic acts such as Laurel and Hardy utilising this medium effectively and brilliantly, making them iconic figureheads within the comedy universe. One of the more prominent scenes where slapstick is utilised is when Buck smashes a rare, ornate piece of china against a grand piano, which is highly humorous to watch due to Candy’s alarmed facial expression upon breaking the china. This sense of hilarity is portrayed in a section of the film where Candy’s character, Buck, punches a clown for showing up intoxicated to his nephew’s birthday party. The humour lies in the shot where the clown bounces back after being punched, but with a misaligned novelty nose, something which evokes laughter as similar slapstick elements have been utilised before, adding a sense of nostalgia into the narrative too. Even though these sequences relied on other elements to be successful, it remains incredibly difficult to envision their success without the lovable and hilarious Candy as the centerfold and thus highlights even further the quality of his performance and the importance that his off-screen persona had on the picture.

In conclusion, Candy will always be renowned for his astounding sense of humour which cemented the actor as a sheer superstar in the realm of comedy – a star whose light still shines bright through the catalogue of films in which Candy graced with his powerful and polemic presence in the performing arts. Candy’s work will continue to collect endless bouts of laughter in years to proceed but ‘Uncle Buck’ may well have been the finest of storms; a movie that illustrated his talents to elevate a movie and, most importantly, make people laugh.

Catherine Giggal
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Catherine Giggal

Media Studies Student, Coffee Enthusiast, an avid watcher of comedy film and television.
Catherine Giggal
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