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Read past reviews by the Film Gang

World Traveler
reviewed by Dennis Morton

Most of the critics have consigned "World Traveler" to a seat in the baggage department. They didn't like it. I don't claim it belongs in first class, but I do like this small film. It deserves at least a choice window seat
toward the front of the plane.
     
"World Traveler" asks the following question: why do men leave home, why do they abandon their families and responsibilities? It's an important question. 
     
I work with incarcerated youngsters, getting them to write about their lives. I've been doing this work for several years, but it didn't take long to discover that many of the youngsters, especially the boys, were being raised in homes without a father.

So, when it became apparent, early on in "World Traveler" that the protagonist, a 34 year old middle class architect named Cal, was abandoning his wife and child, my interest was piqued.
     
Too many of the reviews I've seen have told too much of the story, including, in some cases, the ending. They've properly identified the protagonist as a cad and on the basis of their distaste for Cal have dismissed the entire movie and seem to have had no qualms about revealing details best left out of any review. 
     
The desire for a definitive resolution in a film, and the desire to commiserate with the leading character, is quite understandable. We want to care for our protagonists, identify with them. But where's the rule that says we have to, that if we can't, the movie's not worth seeing? 
     
"World Traveler" falls into the latter category. Cal, played by Billy Crudup, is a conflicted, lost soul. He's physically attractive and sometimes charming. But he's lost his bearings. He appears to be wandering aimlessly west in his symbol of middle class mobility, a Volvo station wagon. 
     
Cal is like an anti-midas figure. Just about anybody he comes in contact with pays a price for the propinquity. And Cal isn't ready to stick around to clean up the mess. He just keeps 'taking off'. 
Director Bart Freundlich gives us a glimpse into the lives of those strewn in Cal's wake. They're characters worthy of a second look, especially the wife of the unlucky Carl, toppled from seven years of sobriety by Cal's insidious intervention. 
     
And it's not as if Cal is unaware of the damage he's doing. We see a self-loathing recur with increasing vigor as he rolls relentlessly west. 
     
Why is he running? Why would a man, whose profession, after all, is to design structures built to last, abandon the edifice of his marriage?
     
If you take my advice and see this film, there are clues along the path. Look for the repetition, almost word for word, of certain lines by the various characters in the film. And, in the several dream and daydream
sequences, look for the recurring character. 
     
Billy Crudup is an unusual actor. He takes on rolls most leading men would eschew. He plays characters with odd interior lives. He's very male but with vulnerable qualities. Watching him register a response to events his character may have precipitated is never uninteresting. And his performance in "World Traveler" continues that tradition.
     
Several women I've talked with about this movie have not liked it. There's little reason to like Cal, I'll admit, but I do like the movie. I like Director Freundlich's pursuit of an answer to a question important to all
of us. It's a question "World Traveler" may not have a definitive answer to, but the exploration never lost my attention. I will guardedly recommend that you catch this one while you can. "World Traveler" is playing at The Nickelodeon in downtown Santa Cruz.
    
For KUSP's Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.
 

Copyright Dennis Morton 2002