There is something poignant about the central image of The Great Buck Howard: a washed up celebrity who finds the hidden money every night, as if by magic. Indeed, we as a culture ascribe a certain magic to the classic ideal of “celebrity” — someone who, through ineffable star power, steals our eyes and our hearts, if not always for the better. Over its fleet 85 minutes, The Great Buck Howard gently explores these themes.
Thankfully, the film never dares to be too direct about its concerns. It’s content to be a breezy comedy with likable actors. Those moments where its thoughtfulness glimmers through the jokes are icing on the cake.
The show-stealer is John Malkovich as the titular Buck Howard; he paints a terrific portrait, capturing everything that a small-time celebrity should be. Petty, full of himself… and charming despite it all. Colin Hanks isn’t quite his father, but he’s likable as the co-lead, a youngster weighing the pros and cons of the creative life. Emily Blunt appears as a foil and romantic interest; she is, no surprise, electric.
Since I am watching this as part of my Tom Hanks retrospective, I should certainly point out that this one of the few movies where he appears as neither a lead nor as a cameo. “Supporting Actor Tom Hanks” doesn’t have much of a ring to it, but he’s expectedly solid as the on-screen father to Colin Hanks’s character.
The film gets a boost thanks to the rest of its excellent supporting cast: Steve Zahn and Adam Scott are always welcome. Even more memorable: the bountiful cameos, including fake talk show interviews and surprise famous faces. Rather than a cheap gimmick, these cameos actually enhance the sense that Buck Howard is a real celebrity with significant, if faded, star power.
It’s not challenging or ultimately that memorable, but it’s brisk and pleasant all the way through, and occasionally sneaky-clever, too.
- Review Project: Tom Hanks Retrospective
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.