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(Credit: Uncle Buck)

Film

Why 'Uncle Buck' is John Candy’s greatest performance

@Russellisation

“As long as you can savour the humorous aspect of misery and misfortune, you can overcome anything.” – John Candy

Often recognised as one of the most beloved actors in all of cinema, John Candy is an American comedian known for roles in Spaceballs, Stripes and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. A key figure of Western comedy alongside the likes of John Belushi and Bill Murray, Candy presented the iconic Saturday Night Live on two occasions, though was better known for his on-screen charm in several heartwarming feature films. 

Rising to prominence in the 1970s, John Candy flourished in the ‘80s, in part thanks to the whimsical, innocent comedies of John Hughes, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink that helped to define the era. Favouring fantasy over reality, the films of John Hughes were optimistic in their depiction of modern life, often offering heartwarming visions of idealism that still remain holiday classics to this very day. 

John Candy was the star of two such projects, appearing in Planes, Trains and Automobiles alongside Steve Martin in 1987 before starring as the titular Uncle Buck just two years later, collaborating with John Hughes in arguably his best projects. Whilst it is the former, Planes, Trains and Automobiles that garners the most praise for its heartwarming thanksgiving rhetoric, Uncle Buck is the film in which Candy truly excels, showing the true extent of his on-screen charm. 

Truly representative of the actor himself, it is the role of Buck Russell in Uncle Buck that even John Candy’s daughter, Jennifer Candy, describes as the most accurate reflection of her father’s loving sensibilities. A bumbling ball of charm and all-around layabout, Buck arrives at his brother’s house to help babysit his rebellious niece and her troublesome younger brother and sister. Navigating his own shortcomings as a responsible adult, Buck Russell goes about helping his niece and elevating the lives of those around him, even if they are reluctant to accept his help. 

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Ultimately telling the story of familial love and happiness in the face of difficulty, there is something about John Hughes’ Uncle Buck that feels more emotionally visceral than his other films. Planes, Trains and Automobiles, whilst an excellent Thanksgiving film, is a fairytale akin to Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, representing a fantastical representation of the holiday spirit. Likewise, The Breakfast Club, whilst charming, is a somewhat reductive coming of age film, favouring nostalgia over reality. 

On the other hand, Uncle Buck, and the character of John Candy’s Buck Russell speaks to a universal identity and a shared communal story that audiences worldwide can relate to. Whilst many other actors were considered for the titular role, including the likes of Robin Williams and Jack Nicholson, Buck feels made for John Candy and, as a result, his performance is effortless. 

27 years after the unfortunate passing of the great comedian, Uncle Buck may present the greatest allegory of his legacy as a father, cultural icon and all-around cinematic great.