This morning’s post comes to us from Kyle Dupic.

Have you ever watched a movie from your childhood only to notice things you missed for years? It is almost like watching a new movie altogether. I remember hearing a pastor tell the story of finally watching his favorite childhood movie with his son for the first time. They got about 30 minutes into Top Gun before turning it off. He had totally forgot some of the things he did not want his 10 year old to experience! That can be the bad side.

But there is also a good side, which I experienced this past week. I was on spring break from school, and my wife coincided her vacation block at the same time. We had a free night in Kansas City, on our way back home from visiting some family in various places. We had heard Mockingbird speak often about Ladybird so we thought it was time to see it. We picked it up at the Redbox while grabbing some groceries. One problem, the VRBO house we rented had a pretty simple DVD player and no matter how we tried, it simply couldn’t read the DVD. Bummer…

Luckily though, the house did have Google Fiber for TV, which was a treat for us, as we haven’t had any sort of cable for a few years through medical school/residency. We flipped around looking for something to watch, and I came across Uncle Buck. This was a childhood favorite of mine. I remembered it mostly for the humor. Uncle Buck laying into the assistant principal, petrifying a teenage boy with his hatchet, and the iconic muffler gunshot stand as worthy YouTube clips to be watched on their own.

Yet jumping into this movie years later, I’m struck by how prevalent the messages of law and gospel are.

Buck seems to encapsulate all of the traits we don’t want to carry. In fact, he seems to be a combination of every wayward family member put together. He is unemployed, an alcoholic, a chainsmoker, makes his living off of rigged horse races, can’t seem to commit to much of anything, and isn’t trustworthy. In short, he is the black sheep of the family. Some part of his messed up life connects with everyone. And that is the beauty of the beginning of Uncle Buck. Not just that his character connects well with the wayward family member in our life, but that his character connects well with the waywardness in us.

Throughout the movie, we see Uncle Buck being consistently and continually brought low. At first, everyone else around him knows what a problem he is except for him. The basic premise of the movie is that Uncle Buck’s brother, Bob, has just received a promotion and moved the family to the suburbs of Chicago. But tragic news strikes as his father-in-law has suffered a heart attack. Scrambling to figure out what to do, they are left with no choice in a new environment but to have to lean on the irresponsible Uncle Buck to care for their three children: 15-year-old Tia, 8-year-old Miles, and 6-year-old Maizy.

Uncle Buck steps into a situation where he is unwanted but absolutely needed in a family crisis. He is currently blind to this though. And this is a tension building in the film till near the end when Tia asks, “How many times have they [her parents] had you here since we moved? Try none, until they went up shit creek and got stuck.” This is one of the many times he is brought low, but the first time that he realizes what everyone else around him already knew.

That tense exchange between Tia and Uncle Buck is really the culmination of the main relationship explored in the film. Tia is a rebellious teenager who doesn’t have much of a relationship with her parents, particularly her mother, Cindy. In fact, before Cindy leaves to care for her father, Tia basically blames her for grandpa’s heart attack. “So why did you move away from him? If my family moved away from me, I’d have a heart attack too.” For so little screen time, the film does a brilliant job of bringing out the incredible tension that exists between a mom and a daughter in the beginning of the film. Additionally, Tia is infatuated with “Bug,” a cool hip high school sweetheart who has taken an interest in her. But right away, Buck sees through this. He warns her that “the guy’s a predator and you’re his prey.” Simply put, he is out for sex. She is oblivious to this though, entranced by what she perceives as love. This sets off a chain reaction in the film where both are seemingly the law to one another.

But we must take a second to realize that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The film portrays the parents, Bob & Cindy, as relatively passive, likely due to exhaustion over their rebellious teenager walking all over them. I’m reminded of how often I read an article on grace-based parenting and invariably, with good intentions, someone asks the question, “Do you believe there is any room for rules and consequences for kids?” Again, I get the question. It is an honest one seeking wisdom in all things. But often what is missed is that in these wonderful stories of grace-based parenting, there is always an indication that the law, preached or felt, was already present in these interactions, making grace all the sweeter.

For Tia though, this appears to be lacking at the beginning of the film. But when Buck steps in, he is the hammer of the law to her, particularly when he realizes who Bug is and what he really wants. He keeps her in every night, allowing her no freedom whatsoever. This is what the law does. It locks one up until the appointed time. And this is what Tia was missing. Not the harsh voice that locks up without reason (although she totally perceives it this way), but the firm voice that knows what is best and seeks to establish that in the house for learning, growing, and flourishing. No law that God has placed in our lives is meant to keep us from experiencing life, but is actually there to keep us from death. As Paul says, the law is good.

But we still have a problem…it is powerless to accomplish that which it is after. And in this movie, just as in real life, it eventually leads to rebellion. Tia ends up getting a call from Chanice, Bucks girlfriend. Buck has been stringing her along for eight years now. Chanice actually offered Buck a full-time job at her tire shop as the film opens. But due to the family emergency, Buck says he needs to hold off starting till this situation resolves as he takes care of the kids. Chanice, rightfully so, thinks this is just another ploy to get out of commitment, out of growing up and potentially settling down with her to start a family. Thus, when Tia answers the phone and lies to Chanice that Buck has been out with the neighbor Marcy till late regularly, it begins another process of bottoming out for Buck, this time with Chanice. A few scenes later, Chanice walks in on Buck and Marcy dancing in the living room, confirming her suspicion that Buck is doing this only to get out of growing up.

One of the things to notice in the film is that pretty much all of the bottoming out Buck goes through seems to be happening outside of him, outside of his control. This isn’t to say there aren’t self-inflicted wounds in his life or that that all of our suffering comes from outside of us. But for Buck, the final breakdown in the relationships around him all seem to be happening not because of his destructive behavior, but because he is simply trying to do the right thing by his family. Even his addictions are better understood as not some lack of moral willpower to do the right thing, but as a man suffering; one suffering through continually making bad choices even though he knows what the right ones are (Romans 7 anyone?).

The laws destructive power hits it peak when Tia decides to rebel against Uncle Buck’s rules to stay in and leave on a Friday night to hang with Bug for the entire weekend. She even comments to her brother and sister to tell Buck “he lost”. This is what the law does. It creates winners and losers. But unknown to Tia, she isn’t aware yet that the same law that made her a winner in her sight is about to make her a loser as well.

For Buck, this is a huge deal. Friday night was when he was going to the racetrack to make his winnings for the entire year that carry him through his childlike lifestyle. He has a connection that allows him to cheat on races and win a bunch of money. And so the tension builds. Tia is gone. Miles and Maizy are unwatched. What is he to do? So begins the justifying. He has to take the kids. This is how he makes his living. It may just be for fun for his father to gamble, but for Buck? Life and death is on the line. What he holds dearest, his ability to love and care for himself, is on the line.

He packs the kids up and gets in the car, revving up the 1977 Mercury Marquis. As he sits there ready to leave the driveway, he looks in the rearview mirror at the kids, then himself. True regret sets in. For a man who seems to experience a whole lot of worldly sorrow, you might call this godly sorrow. He bottoms out when he realizes he is dragging someone else, particularly children, into his sin.

An important thing to gather here is this wasn’t necessarily serious enough in itself to bring him to the bottom. All week he has been beaten down. All week he has been led to this point. This just happens to be another link in the chain. But by the grace of God, this happens to be the thing that bottoms him out. The powerful message here is not that we choose the bottoming out, but that it chooses us.

A phone call to Chanice confirms this. He is stuck and needs help and must ask for it from the person who hates him most: the woman who thinks he has been cheating on him. But right now, that doesn’t matter. What matters is an angry teenager running into a dark and broken world; one in which she thinks she will find life but will only find death. Chanice even makes clear that the relationship is over, but that she is doing it “because there’s kids involved.” Bucks response illustrates he is not the same man, but one who has accepted death. “However it has to be.” His words are clear. It is as if he has accepted step one of AA. He has finally accepted his actions have destroyed himself and others around him. He is powerless.

The funny thing about Buck is, throughout the movie, you get hints of a man who can love beautifully, but seems to get in his own way to do it longer than a few seconds, because it costs him something. It costs him his own life. But once he has hit bottom, once he has embraced the death of himself, he doesn’t even need to be extended grace after that to extend it to others. For Buck, the law bringing about death is grace.

This allows Buck the freedom to now pursue Tia. No longer having to worry about himself, he seeks her out at that party. Scene after scene cuts to Bug in a bedroom, pushing a girl towards sex who keeps saying she doesn’t want it. The black hair, the clothes, Bug forcing himself on her; its clear that Tia is in trouble. Buck enters the room only he can, drilling through the lock with his power drill. But he is surprised to find not Tia, but a different girl. No longer is Tia the rebellious teenage, but she is a fellow sufferer, just as Buck is. Tia is struck herself by the harsh reality she has failed to see up to this point. There are no winners. We are all losers.

Buck finds her on the street, and she says, “Everything you said would happen happened.” She is waiting for Buck to be what he has been all week. The law. But Bucks response is telling: “I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to get you home.” Buck has died to himself. No longer is Tia an obstacle in the way of his livelihood, but a fellow sufferer on the side of the road, waiting to be taken care of.

The whole film Tia is played brilliantly by actor Jean Louisa Kelly. Her off-putting attitude, facial expressions and cutting words reveal a girl deeply angry. But love begets love. And for the first time in the film, you see a teenager whose shoulders have lowered, the defenses gone, and pressure off. She is more relaxed with Buck. But even in that she asks in the car, “Is this a trick?” Isn’t that the beautiful thing about grace? It is so scandalous in nature that it can’t possible make sense to us.

This grace also changes the rest of the relationships in the movie. But not in the normal way films do this to us.

Buck and Chanice do reconcile, but not without Buck trying to leverage Tia to manipulate Chanice. She sees right through this and confronts him on it. Yet she loves him anyways. Rather than an oversimplified picture of love, Uncle Buck gives us a realistic picture of what love looks like, ugliness and all. Where other films leave us with a “nothing bad will ever happen again” feeling, Uncle Buck ends with this couple fighting on their way out to the car, showing love to be a complicated dance between loving the beauty and the ugliness in people, especially when that ugliness never fully goes away.

In addition, daughter and mother reconcile. In a wonderful scene, mom walks into the door to a scowling Tia. But soon enough, Tia embraces mom with a hug, completely taking her for surprise. Mom’s response: “It’s going to be real different. I promise.” A beautiful picture of how the same words can mean different things. A week earlier, this would’ve easily meant that the law would be wielded. But now, after a week in which everyone suffered (including mom and dad), things are going to be different means love, not law, is permeating this household.

So fire up your old VHS if you still have it and enjoy yourself a classic with a powerful story of grace.