This period piece about an aging stage magician who has seen better days played by the irascible character of John Malkovich and whose story is told with a voice over and stars as his magician assistant as the primary character played by Colin Hanks results in a feel good character drama of the good old days. Not as eccentric a character film as The Fisher King (1991), nor as schizophrenic as The Soloist (2009), it nevertheless has its similar emotive moments of sadness and reflective melancholy as well as a joyfulness. The Great Buck Howard has familiar elements of the story narrative of Stand by Me (1986) as well as its tone and reflectiveness of times gone by and a more lighter version of the character study as found in the period drama film The Cider House Rules (1999) about a medical doctor who rules over an orphanage and whose story is told from the viewpoint of a young man training to be a doctor played by Toby Maguire. At the same time, the more negativistic ambiance of the period of show biz entertainment in The Cooler (2003) is well captured in this movie but with a more ambivalent presentation, at least throughout most of the movie until the end.

While not has cinematically fantastic a period family drama as Hugo (2011) in 3-D that is sweeping in its visually dazzling portrayal of a rediscovered old man of cinematic fame by a orphan boy in Paris, The Great Buck Howard some ways allows John Malkovich more of a full range of the character performance in the moment as the audience gets to live with his extended performances and experiences as does Colin Hank’s character. Unlike the epic portrayals of famous people from history as with Amadeus (1984), Gandhi (1982), The Queen (2006), or even The Aviator (2004) with Leonardo De Caprio’s Howard Hughs characterization, this movie instead is more down to earth and connected to the human condition, as if we too might have actually been witnessed to such a character at some time in our lives, not some larger than life figure.

Perhaps one is reminded most closely of Anne Hathaway’s performance as assistant to the definitely irascible character played by Meryl Streep as fashioner extraordinaire in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Yet somehow, Malkovich’s Buck Howard’s character is even more transparent but layered and substantive with a more breadth of personality both loving and terrorizing at the same time. Finally, it wouldn’t be complete review without some mention of The Great Gatsby (2013) with Toby Maguire again having his storytelling role reprised. The Great Howard Buck is as plain America, “I love this town!” phrase of Howard Buck as he first visits his next venues as The Great Gatsby is as extravagant, large, and stylistically fantastic as America can be. Sometimes, it’s the little things that really count, to discover one’s special place in the world, and that is what The Great Howard Buck movie seems to be about.