The Great Buck Howard

Director: Sean McGinly
Screenwriters: Sean McGinly

Institute History

  • 2008 Sundance Film Festival


Law-school dropout Troy Gable answers an ad for a “personal assistant to a celebrity performer,” hoping it will catapult him to a glamorous career in the entertainment industry. Little does he know that performer is Buck Howard, a "mentalist" infamous for his 61 appearances on The Tonight Show, who has been reduced to a has-been magician in need of a pretty big trick to get him out of this slump.

Writer/director Sean McGinly does the near impossible by successfully encapsulating a whole era of entertainment in one outrageous character. Played with perfection by John Malkovich, Buck is a bigger-than-life mix of ego, sweetness, and delusion packaged in a flamboyant style. As Troy, Colin Hanks does a remarkable job of holding his own, even when deflecting Buck's diva-esque tantrums. In an inspired bit of casting, Tom Hanks plays Troy’s father, who ironically disapproves of show business, and Emily Blunt is the fiery publicist hired to stage the comeback of a lifetime.

McGinly’s secret is that he never allows the film to wallow in sentimentality because Buck doesn't need our pity. He has confidence in his stage presence, and he may even have some authentic magic powers up his sleeve. The true magic of the Great Buck Howard, however, is remembering the power of staying true to yourself even if the world around you has changed.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

  • Section: Premiere - Opening Night in Salt Lake City
  • Film Type: Dramatic Feature
  • Country: U.S.A.
  • Run Time: 87 min.
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