An unexpected installment this week. I found myself incapable of summing up my thoughts about these characters in a few paragraphs. So here is a whole host of rambling nonsense that hopefully sums up how I feel about these folks. I am also convinced that this post may prove as evidence of my insanity.
The next installment will cover the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Charlie Bucket, Grandpa Joe and the Entire Bucket Family (yes, even the bedridden grandparents) – Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
On the surface, Charlie Bucket sounds like a poster child for generosity, innocence and honesty. Sometimes casting and performance can muddle up the transfer from page to screen. This is exactly what happened with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Charlie Bucket of the Roald Dahl book and vastly inferior 2005 Tim Burton film convey the proper Dickensian poverty-stricken empathy. This kid deserves the best there is; what a selfless creature! A bad performance has the power to make even the noblest characteristics seem like a pile of overreaching piety and incessant defeatism. Ladies and gentlemen; Peter Ostrum:
It is not a coincidence that Charlie Bucket was Peter Ostrum’s only performance. He left acting at a very early age and rightly so. Nobody can call this performance good. It is a catastrophe. Overly strained and entirely one-note, Ostrum inspires a special kind of irrational hatred. Case in point; the amount of time I have spent rolling my eyes at innocuous lines like “It’s payday Mr. Jopeck” proves Ostrum’s ability to annoy with even the simplest of dialogue. It also proves that I may be a little insane.
Then we have Grandpa Joe; a source of never-give-up enthusiasm. He always believes in Charlie and in his heart knows he will go places and rise above the cards he has been dealt. He is always looking out for his grandson and encouraging him to never give up. An incident of miscasting takes all of these lovely traits and spits them out as across-the-board selfishness. What a flibbertigibbet wackadoo, and I do not mean that as a compliment. At one point he says “If she’s a lady, then I’m a Vermicious Knid”. No Grandpa Joe; that would be an insult to Vermicious Knids. Ladies and gentlemen; Jack Albertson:
Jack Albertson is a fine actor, but his portrayal never roused my sense of spirit. The man stays bedridden for decades, even though Charlie and his mother are left to scramble together any scraps of pittance pay in order to stay in their broken-down abode. Yet when Charlie wins the Golden Ticket, he is suddenly able to stumble out of bed? By the end of “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”, Grandpa Joe is jumping and springing and leaping around like a total asshole, not to mention showing off way more Grandpa Joe leg than I never needed to see:
Way to prioritize. Apparently a desperately impoverished family is not enough to get your ass out of bed, but a visit to a freaking chocolate factory is? How can I like someone this selfish? Grandpa Joe is clearly supposed to be quite flawed yet ultimately endearing; but he isn’t here. The lyrics to the song do not generate sympathy; he sounds like a person who gave up on life very early on, and is now using Charlie’s ticket to give himself an entirely falsified sense of purpose. But that’s just me.
In case it is not clear at this point, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is completely engrained in me. The thing practically runs through my veins. Some films you see enough times to carve out an individualized connection with it. What makes my relationship with this film so distinctive (in comparison to my relationship with the other films I love), is the dissonance between what I get out of watching it. The second half of this film, which sees Gene Wilder take center stage, is legitimately great. In fact, there is no performance I cherish more than Wilder’s work here. Yet the first half is wildly uneven as it sets up Charlie’s woeful predicament and his unlikely journey to the gates of Willy Wonka’s factory.
On the one hand, the slightly absurdist scenes depicting how far adults will go to find the tickets are one-minute nuggets of darkly comedic gold. The frenzy that the Golden Ticket fiasco ensues is supposed to be funny; except when it comes to Charlie. Charlie and his decrepit bunch of relatives are supposed to be taken seriously. They live in a hole of their own self-perpetuating misery entirely outside the comedy going on around them. Between the sad attempts to play this storyline completely straight, and the bad casting and execution, everything involving the Bucket family becomes unintentionally funny.
Charlie’s mother swishing around nondescript blue sheets in dirty water with a big wooden paddle: hilarious. Charlie being derided by his teacher and classmates because a Wonka-related math problem forces him to announce he has only opened two chocolate bars: hilarious. Charlie silently sobbing in his bed after hearing news of the soon-to-be-revealed fraudulent fifth ticket: hilarious. Remember when Charlie pitifully tricks his family into thinking he got a Golden Ticket in his birthday chocolate bar, only to say – “Fooled you didn’t I? You thought I really had it” (yeah Charlie; you showed them), with that always-present expression of his that suggests his dog was just hit by a car? That scene makes me laugh harder than most comedies.
It would be entirely possible for me to do a list of least favorite Charlie Bucket expressions. They would all be variations of the same thing. I could do this; but even I have my limits. But here’s a sampling:
There are certain lines of dialogue that are so overly saccharine and self-deprecating, how is anyone supposed to do anything but laugh?
Charlie: [to Grandpa Joe, after opening the Wonka bar they think has the last Golden Ticket in it] “You know… I’ll bet those Golden Tickets make the chocolate taste terrible.”
Charlie’s Mom: (about a loaf of bread) “A real banquet”
Grandpa Joe: “When a loaf of bread looks like a banquet, I’ve no right buying tobacco.”
The above is pretty much the representative example of Grandpa Joe’s selfishness. You know what? You are right; you have no right buying tobacco. He is all talk and no action. His words mean nothing.
To this day, I skip the “Cheer Up Charlie” scene. Leave it to Charlie Bucket to be the subject of quite possibly the worst song in a musical.
“You get blue like everyone
But me and Grandpa Joe
Can make your troubles go away
Blow away, there they go…”
Someone get me a paper bag to hurl into.
When they gulp down the Fizzy Lifting Drinks, I always hope the fan annihilates them, but this unsurprisingly never takes place.
As I mentioned earlier, their so-called saintly characteristics have the opposite effect; they are either funny or infuriating or both. Here is an onslaught of examples (I have so many things to say, I have resorted to bullet points):
“The Candy Man” song features Bill freely tossing out candy to a crowd of children. The song ends and the camera cuts to this face:
Seriously? Charlie; he was literally throwing candy to all the children. You could have walked in and joined the party, but no. That would be Un-Bucket-like of him. The film’s first shot of Charlie shows him as he will appear throughout the entire film; with his trademarked sulky ‘my dog just died’ face.
-Grandpa Joe trying to give Charlie supposedly false hope feels needlessly cruel as opposed to well-meaning.
– Why does Charlie choose Grandpa Joe as his guest to the factory? I realize he is the clear favorite of the bunch…but surely Charlie’s long-suffering and hard-working mother deserves it by default.
– Grandpa Joe’s seemingly throwaway line during “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” in which he exclaims, “It’s ours Charlie” is maddening. Way to steal the thunder Joe. Last time I checked, it was Charlie’s ticket. You’re just along for the ride.
– When Willy Wonka walks out with his slow limp, everyone seems disappointed, including Charlie and Grandpa Joe. Really? He is limping people. Are Charlie and Grandpa Joe really that shallow? Of course they are.
The climactic verbal throwdown that takes place is what takes the cake for me. It is separate from the rest, which I have mostly turned into a mock-fest across time. To this day, the end of the film never fails to piss me off. Charlie and Grandpa Joe are incapable of taking the blame for what they have done. They knowingly broke the rules with the Fizzy-Lifting Drinks and at no point do they apologize for their sorry excuse for a mishap. Wonka understandably yells at them, letting them know that yes, their random absence from the group did not go unnoticed and uninvestigated. That gaping silence where Grandpa Joe’s incessant quips usually are was probably the tip-off.
Grandpa Joe then unleashes an undeservedly moralistic speech about crushing a boy’s dreams and smashing them to pieces. He is really overcompensating for his own fault in the entire situation, but somehow this is supposed to be seen as an old man heroically taking a stand for his grandson. Charlie in the meantime, crushed and oozing ‘my dog just died’ face seems disappointed in Wonka the man. Really? Think this through Charlie. I know you have no brain cells and that all your energy is spent moping, but surely you are capable of seeing the situation for what it is? Grandpa Joe is the one that goaded you into taking a sip. If something had happened, Wonka would be held responsible and his life’s work would be down the drain in an instant. They signed a contract! But no; Charlie only has enough energy to mope on over to return the damn Everlasting Gobstopper, a cheap reverse psychology ploy that Wonka falls for.
My hatred for Charlie, Grandpa Joe and the rest of the Buckets has become a major factor in what I get out of this film. I love hating them. I have seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory so many times that an evolution has taken place over two decades. A comforting familiarity has surrounded the film, and that includes my loathing for half the cast. Making fun of these characters has become almost a pastime over the years. Time and time again watching it with various family members has turned into a collective mocking of line deliveries, gawking at how unbearable these fucking characters really are.
The irrational hatred I have for these characters does not ruin Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; far from it. In fact the opposite is true; it has become entirely essential to my viewing experience.