The Great Buck Howard

Get ready for the comeback of a lifetime.

Emily as: Valerie Brennan
Genre(s): Comedy | Drama
Written by: Sean McGinly
Directed by: Sean McGinly
Other Cast: Colin Hanks, John Malkovich, Tom Hanks, Steve Zahn
Release Date: April 10, 2009 (Limited)
Production Budget:
Total Worldwide Gross: $900k
Filming Locations: Los Angeles, California, USA and Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Once upon a time, Buck Howard (John Malkovich) spent his days in the limelight. His mind-boggling feats as a mentalist extraordinaire – not to be confused with those of a mere magician – earned him a marquee act in Vegas and 61 appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. In his own humble opinion, his talents go far beyond simple sleight of hand – he can read minds and hypnotize not just a single soul but an entire room of people! But nowadays, it’s clear to everyone but Buck that his act has lost its luster; he performs in faded community centers and hasn’t sold out a theater in years.

Yet, with a hearty handshake and a trademark “I love this town!,” Buck Howard perseveres, confident in his own celebrity, convinced his comeback is imminent. He just needs a new road manager and personal assistant. As it turns out, recent law school drop-out and unemployed, would-be writer Troy Gable (Colin Hanks) needs a job and a purpose. Working for the pompous, has-been mentalist fills the former requirement, but how it satisfies the latter is questionable, especially to his father (Tom Hanks), who still assumes Troy is in law school. Nonetheless, with the aid of a fiery publicist (Emily Blunt) and a bold stroke of fate, Buck surprisingly lands back into the American consciousness, taking Troy along for the ride of his life.

As the coveted spotlight again shines on the great Buck Howard, Buck becomes the unlikeliest of teachers as Troy learns a few tricks he couldn’t possibly have picked up in law school.

Production Info

  • Real-life father and son Tom Hanks and Colin Hanks also play father and son in the movie.
  • The character of Troy Gabel is based on director Sean McGinly’s experiences as road manager for The Amazing Kreskin, on which The Great Buck Howard is loosely based.
  • Kevin Kline was originally set to play Buck Howard.
  • The Las Vegas scenes were filmed in Hollywood on the same set that was used for the Palace Hotel Ballroom scene in The Blues Brothers.
  • Character Quotes

  • It’s hard to feel bad for him. He has this face you just want to punch.
  • It is over for Buck and everyone knows it but him.
  • Troy: So, you wanted to go over something?
    Valerie: Oh, no. I just want to go over a drink about now.
  • Valerie: Can I ask you something about Buck?
    Troy: Yeah.
    Valerie: Is he gay? Cause we got a bet going in the office.
    Troy: I don’t know.
    Valerie: So you’re not his, um, travelling companion, or–
    Troy: No.
    Valerie: Okay. Okay. It just looked kind of domestic up in the room with you handling his pants.
  • Troy: Look, I’ll admit I have no idea what I’m doing, and obviously I’ve got to quit this job and figure it out, but I’m trying, and it feels good. It feels like what I’m supposed to do, you know?
    Valerie: oh, come on. You’re not supposed to do anything. Life is not magical like that, okay? No one is supposed to do anything.
    Troy: How do you know that?
    Valerie: ‘Cause it boils down to the same thing for everyone, from Buck Howard to Meryl Streep to you. Most creative people, they just want the whole world to love and adore them, which is infantile.
    Troy: Okay, all right. Maybe I’m naive, but life is short, you know? I mean, someday we’re not gonna be here. And if that’s the case, I want to spend the time that I have doing something that makes my heart race. I don’t care what that says about me, it’s how I feel.
    Valerie: That really turns me on.
    Troy: Are you serious?
    Valerie: Yeah. That whole existential thing–[Troy moves in to kiss her] I have a boyfriend. [She grabs him] Oh, forget I said it.
  • Troy: So, that boyfriend of yours, how’s that working out?
    Valerie: And you ask just because you’re concerned about my well-being?
  • Quoting: Emily Blunt

    On her character: Valerie is an ambitious woman who can’t quite believe she has been assigned to work with this has-been instead of Tom Cruise or someone equally as exciting

    On Valerie and Troy’s relationship: These two are quite an unlikely couple. They are both stuck in this situation which is frustrating, to say the least. And, although they are very different, they find this connection.

    Critical Response

    Anthony Lane, The New Yorker: The cast is speckled with lively souls like Steve Zahn and Griffin Dunne (and Colin Hanks’s father, Tom, one of the producers), but the only person who wakes the movie from its slumbers is Emily Blunt. She gets a nothing role as a publicist, and makes something both sultry and casual out of it, bedding the unworthy Troy with no more fuss than someone ordering a plate of ribs.

    Claudia Puig, USA Today: Emily Blunt continues to impress with her talent for sharp comedy, on the heels of a superb performance in Sunshine Cleaning. She plays Valerie, an aggressive and quick-witted New York publicist who is roped into wrangling Buck for a Nowheresville comeback gig. Valerie and Troy form a believable connection that leads to some witty scenarios and an engaging romance.

    Stephen Holden, The New York Times: Ms. Blunt, who has the officious, mechanical airs of a contemporary publicist down pat, lends the movie pungent comic undertones, as do Debra Monk and Steve Zahn as a pair of foolishly besotted Buck Howard fans who insist on shepherding their idol around the city.