Maynard posts a note about a (non-political) movie you’ve never heard of and (to be honest) probably won’t be interested in, but he’s going to put it up anyway, just because.
“The Great Buck Howard”, released to the art house cinema circuit a year or two ago, caught my eye this week as it came around on the Showtime cable channel. John Malkovich, who gets attached to unusual stuff, plays the titular Buck Howard. Ricky Jay is also involved, and Jay is a fountain of weirdly eclectic knowledge. This isn’t a movie with wide appeal, but it’s unlikely to be ordinary. Might be my kind of thing.
“The Great Buck Howard” is the (fictional) tale of Troy Gable, a young man (played by Colin Hanks, son of Tom Hanks), who drops out of law school to do something better with his life (as if there’s anything better than lawyering). He has a dream of writing for a living. But in the meantime, how to pay the bills? Troy checks the want ads…and finds himself applying to become road manager for “The Great” Buck Howard (who??), a mentalist of lukewarm reputation who travels around the country performing his show.
This isn’t a big film, nor is it ambitious. But it accomplishes what it set out to do, and for that I liked it very much. It makes me think of youth, and of a time in life when we know what we don’t want, but we don’t know what we do want. These are the days when we meander…and if we’re very lucky, we stumble, quite by accident (or perhaps by providence), upon a hint that leads us in the right direction. For those of us that didn’t have much of a clue as we passed beyond our teenage years (count me among that crowd!), the wisest course is to keep your eyes and your mind open. Your moment of inspiration will come, like the Messiah, when least expected. Then again, perhaps it will never come in your lifetime, or maybe you’ll blink and miss it. These possibilities are as real as they are tragic.
So I empathize with the quest of young Troy. The mentalist whom Troy serves, Buck Howard, is compelling for a different reason. Buck is a quirky and enigmatic figure, as a mentalist must be. He’s not superhuman, and he suffers from typical human failings, and yet…well, he’s interesting. Malkvovitch does a fine job of giving the character flesh and depth. We watch him because we want to know him. In a way we learn something from him, although it’s hard to put your finger on what.
I come away from this film thinking warmly about the jagged and very personal pathways we must discover as part of the process of growing up. It would be nice if life were simpler, but I think it can’t be. The general goals are clear enough: Learn to be decent and righteous and useful. But with respect to the details, there’s no one-size-fits-all roadmap. Troy Gable’s path is roundabout, and this rings true.
By the way, the “Great Buck Howard” character is loosely based upon The Amazing Kreskin. I’ve never known much about Kreskin, and this makes me wonder if I should look into him. Here’s Kreskin’s website. Hmmm, I see he’s playing Vegas these days.
The Great Buck Howard is rated PG for mild sexuality, and it struck me as suitable for mature teens. (I wonder if it would hold the interest of teens, mature or immature? Or would it only be meaningful to a handful of pseudointellectuals who are midway through life?) Here is the official website; the Metacritic score is 63, and Rotten Tomatoes gives it 72%.