A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Uncle Buck is a 1989 John Hughes-directed movie in which John Candy plays a perpetually irresponsible adult brought in to babysit his nieces and nephew due to a family emergency. Within the first five minutes, a teen girl, while exchanging unpleasantries with her brother and sister, says "crap" and "s--t," followed by the brother saying "goddammit" and the little girl saying "s--t." Later, the boy asks his teen sister if she's "waiting for your sex?" While the profanity from kids more or less slows down after the beginning, adults also use profanity and make reference to "dildo jokes," and a neighbor mistakenly thinks Buck is having sex in the laundry room because of the sounds he makes as he tries to unjam a packed washing machine. Teens drink and smoke; the boyfriend of the teen girl clearly wants to have sex with her and is later seen engaged in nonconsensual foreplay with another girl at a party. For his part, Uncle Buck smokes cigars, drinks beer to excess, talks of pet names for his girlfriend's private parts (culminating in his name for his private part, "Felix"), and seems to make his living engaged in various scams involving gambling. Nonetheless, the movie does attempt to paint an accurate picture of 1980s teen life, and the characters begin to see the errors in their ways and lifestyles.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Buck Russell (John Candy), 40, is a sports-betting, unemployed bachelor living in a messy apartment, stringing along his longtime girlfriend, Chanice (Amy Madigan), who wants to settle down with him. The black sheep of the family, Buck is shocked when his brother calls. It's an emergency -- his sister-in-law's father has suffered a heart attack, and they need Buck stay at their posh suburban home to watch the kids while they go out of town. Buck walks into an uncomfortable household situation. Little Mazy (Gaby Hoffman) and Miles (Macaulay Culkin) get along great with the big, goofy teddy-bear uncle. But 15-year-old niece Tia (Jean Kelly) positively loathes Buck. Her resentment and teen rebellion against her mother take the form of haughty sarcasm, progressive apparel, and hanging with a vaguely "goth" party crowd. Eventually Tia's feud with Buck crosses the line and causes genuine pain. But you get the feeling the girl is just imitating, in caricature, typically snotty grown-ups on her side of the tracks.
Is it any good?
In Uncle Buck, John Hughes has created a likable hero who exhibits both the virtues and the drawbacks of acting like a big kid. The benefits outweigh the negatives, though -- or at least that's the case Hughes tries to make. As he did in Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, Hughes makes it seem like class structure in America is just as divisive as the dukedoms and commoners in Jane Austen's backyard.
And, when Buck agrees to watch the kids, it not only helps him avoid a job Chanice lined up for him, but it's also supposed to prove to her that he can be a responsible parent-like figure in spite of himself. There's enough slapstick and falling-down stuff with Candy acting goofy to please viewers not looking for heavy stuff, and the acting is all on target.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the conflicts among the various characters. Do you think Buck could have handled bad-girl Tia in a more productive way? Do you believe the way the story comes out? Has Buck himself grown up a little by the end? What do you think will happen between him and Chanice?
In the 1980s, John Hughes, the director of Uncle Buck, made a name for himself by making movies that tried to move beyond the typical trite stereotyping of teenagers and to convey the realities of broken homes, drug and alcohol use, teen sex, cliques, and not fitting in as well as coming to grips with first loves, more responsibilities, and uncertain futures. Where and how do these portrayals of teens seem (and look) dated, and what are some of the ways in which the issues addressed are still discussed decades after these movies were released?
If you could remake this movie, how would you do it? Who would star?
- In theaters: August 16, 1989
- On DVD or streaming: August 23, 2005
- Cast: Jean Louisa Kelly, John Candy, Macaulay Culkin
- Director: John Hughes
- Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Book Characters, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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