Death of a Buick

Institute History

  • 1993 January Screenwriters Lab


Death of a Buick is a black comedy about an American family in crisis. Set in Los Angeles at the dawn of the Reagan era, Buick chronicles two days in the lives of the highly-dysfunctional Hopkins family, a brood that has been transplanted from the East coast and been ravaged by the turbulent '70's. Confused and alienated by the enormous changes in American society, the Hopkins have shutdown emotionally and become human islands, isolated from the world and from one another. The mother finds solace in her garden and in caring for her two toy poodles, Pierre and Fifi. The father has escaped into the contours of his own mind and is determined to take his own life, after first completing a lengthy suicide "note," five hundred pages long. The second son, Jack, is content to keep up appearances and make his mother proud of him, while at the same time ingesting huge amounts of beer and marijuana. The youngest son, Jason, has had the good sense to get out of town and break free of the idyllic past. He is a promising writer, at the threshold of a brilliant career.

When Jason is killed in a senseless car crash, a week before Christmas, the family is suddenly forced to confront its demons and each other. Dad's latest attempt at suicide is a dismal failure; he only succeeds in damaging Mom's beloved '56 Buick special, a family heirloom which once belonged to her mother, and, in exposing his monumental suicide "note," a work that Jack finds both threatening and outrageous. Benji, on the other hand, senses that the whole tragic episode is really a golden opportunity; at last, the family has a chance at redemption and forgiveness. The only problem is, Mom refuses to acknowledge what has happened, and is determined not to let Jason's death ruin her favorite holiday of the year. Benji's plan is to finish what Dad started; he wants to destroy Mom's precious Buick and put the past to rest, once and for all. Jack embraces the idea for his own selfish reasons, and ties one of the poodles, Fifi, onto the car, like a hood ornament. The plan succeeds; the family weathers the storm and comes out the other end, battered, but alive, and so does the poodle. The other, Pierre, is not as fortunate. He has drowned in the swimming pool. Like Jason, a tragedy for the times.

Buick is both funny and moving. It is a look back at how we got to where we are and at the price we paid for clinging too long to our "Ozzie and Harriet" legacy. And, ultimately, it is a story of hope. This family, though fractured and troubled, manages to survive.


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