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Film & TV

In the story of a beleaguered Red Sox fan, David Duchovny may have crafted a perfect Jewish Father’s Day movie

‘Bucky F–ng Dent’ is a heartfelt family drama based on the actor and director’s novel

David Duchovny’s Bucky F–king Dent is many things: a heady satire, a heartfelt family drama, a romance and a ribald comedy. It’s about the power (and limitations) of illusion, the thin line between fact and fiction, and baseball as myth and metaphor. 

Despite its lack of definition or, perhaps, because of it, the film, boasts an unexpected, indeed, uncanny, quirky charm. Inspired by Duchovny’s well-received novel (same title), it marks his second time at bat (to extend the baseball imagery) as a director; his first was The House of D.

At its core, Bucky Dent centers on the troubled relationship between a terminally ill father, Marty (Duchovny) and his grown son Ted (Logan Marshall-Green),  who’ve been estranged for years. Ted returns to his childhood New Jersey home to care for dad who has lung cancer and has less than a year to live. 

Festering resentments are aired, secrets revealed, mutual love acknowledged. A gratuitous subplot traces Teddy’s romance with his father’s caregiver Mariana (Stephanie Beatriz), part hospice nurse, part grief counselor who “helps people to die,” she explains with the obvious subtext — she helps people to live

The film’s sentimentality is inevitable, starting right off with its opening scene set in a 1956 living room bathed in nostalgic sepia light. A baseball game is playing on a boxy TV. The rabbit ears are visible, the screen is snowy. Marty is fixated on the game, drinking and chain-smoking.  A young Ted watches the game with Dad, an impassioned Red Sox fan.

The New York Yankees’ Bucky Dent, seen here in 1979, carries significant metaphorical weight in Duchovny’s film. Photo by Getty Images

Fast forward to 1978. A man-child, sporting a long ponytail, Ted makes his living hawking bags of peanuts at Yankee Stadium, though he aspires to be a great writer. He has written a number of novels and has received rejection letters galore, all proudly displayed on his wall. He boasts no shortage of dated intellectual pretensions.

When his agent (Pamela Adlon) suggests he’d be far better served if he wrote a traditional story, instead of “fake French New Wave,” he says plots are “a dead, 19th-century bourgeois convention.” She surpasses him in trendy cliches proclaiming that he needs real experience to write, suggesting he commit a crime and spend time in jail. “Go forth and suffer and then come back and show me genius.” 

Ted embarks on that real life experience with his ailing father, a wise-cracking, crusty old Jewish curmudgeon who is stony-faced and speaks in a drone. “Why did God make tobacco if he didn’t want us to smoke it?” he quips. The two men share much in common, mostly disappointment.

A retired advertising copywriter, and quite successful during those frenetic days, Marty now views his work and by extension its values with contempt. Hurling his tear sheets into the fire, he sums it up as “A bonfire of the inanities.” Later, rummaging around in the dying embers, Ted uncovers Marty’s unpublished novel that in fact is a journal recounting among other things, his sterile marriage and his love for another woman, Eva. Unable to understand why his father did not leave his mother for Eva, Marty explains that was not a viable option. Duty prevailed.  

But his obsessive dream that somehow his venerated, “cursed” Red Sox, would once again win a World Series was his solace, his escape. As the narrative unfolds in 1978,  the Red Sox still can’t score. Now the problem is the great Bucky ‘F–king’ Dent (hence the title) playing for the Yankees. We don’t learn until the very end why the Boston team or, for that matter baseball at all, means so much to Marty, short of its iconic role in the American imagination as has been seen in movies like Field of Dreams

“Baseball defeats time, defeats death,” Marty notes.

David Duchovny and Logan Marshall-Green as father and son in ‘Bucky F–ng Dent.’ Photo by Jeff Powers

In the face of Marty’s low spirits and failing health, Ted joins forces with Marty’s barbershop cronies (delightfully played by Evan Handler, Jason Beghe and Santo Fazio) to fake a Boston Sox winning streak. The newspaper delivery boy is in on it too. New sports headlines are manufactured and storms are staged with the help of rudimentary props (including a water hose) to support the idea that games have been “rained out.” 

 And, predictably enough, Marty rallies, his mood improves. It’s mind over matter and silly beyond belief and yet there’s something wonderfully refreshing about the notion of compassion — yes, lying — taking precedence over unvarnished honesty. It’s a fairy tale. And, why not?”

Bucky F–ing Dent is well-paced and the performances are more than serviceable. Duchovny brings a nice touch of vulnerability to Marty’s  irascibility, though at moments he seems a tad too young and healthy. 

In the end, as is the case with other pictures of this ilk, it’s all about lessons learned. Usually they’re inspiring. Marty’s parting words are anomalous and depressing, yet this one resonates.

“Life’s not about winning. Life is about losing,” he says. “Life belongs to the losers. Don’t ever forget that.”

Still, the film’s poignant coda, set in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox finally won the series after an 86-year drought, adds just the right touch of affirmation not simply for the ball team. But also for Ted and the now long-deceased Marty, who have collaborated in the most obvious way that we should have anticipated.

Bucky F–ng Dent premiered at the 2023 Tribeca Festival.

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