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
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