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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
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Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Lisbon
Fat Possum
LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

December 7, 2007
Rating: 8/10

The Wendell Baker Story is a simple, heartfelt picture that, after its initial limited theatrical release in 2005, slipped under the radar and eventually through the cracks. Reviving the film with national distribution in the spring of this year did little to increase its popularity, but Wendell Baker's recent release on DVD might just be the ticket to get the film into the libraries of the discerning film fan to which it belongs.

I'll be honest; I hadn't actually heard of The Wendell Baker Story before Netflix recommended its pending DVD release to me with great urgency. The mailorder rental site was so pushy about it that I finally relented and moved it to the top of my queue, just to satisfy the profiling program as soon as possible. In hindsight my reluctance to view this charming little piece of film candy is rather odd, as it was written by my favorite Wilson (Luke) and directed by him and his brother (Owen), my second favorite Wilson (Andrew, aka Futureman from Bottle Rocket) and, hilariously, Beef Supreme from Idiocracy ). Owen also stars in the film and, oddly, actually musters up the energy to play his character with a different method than usual. I assumed that long ago both he and Ben Stiller had taken their Zoolander proceeds and developed an artificial intelligence technology that yeilded a prop warehouse full of cyborg look-a-likes for each, affording the buddies limitless freetime to go curling or snowboarding in the Swiss Alps or something. I'm not yet convinced that the Wilson cyborg isn't a reality, but not one of his scenes in Wendell Baker was eye-rollingly mechanical and sigh-inducing, which is, given his recent track record, something of a breakthrough.

In fact, everything about The Wendell Baker Story made me miss the Wilsons and Wes Anderson who created Bottle Rocket, their first feature film. That first effort was artful and poignant without any of the gimmickery the team's successive films embraced. Anderson wasn't involved in Wendell Baker, but it has the Wilsons' marks all over it; and not only was it shot in Dallas like Bottle Rocket and with a similar visual style, but the two films are alike in timing, humor, and even subject matter. Wendell Baker (Luke), a ne'er-do-well with an inability to get his life together and a penchant for petty crime, has a lot more luck than Bottle Rocket's wannabe master criminal Dignan (Owen), but success doesn't throw the film for a loop. Wendell Baker is a fantasy, the tale of one Texan's second chance at greatness, love, and a spectacular career. It's not a character study or a Salingeresque think piece. It's not supposed to be showy or pretentious. It is what it promises to be; the story of a guy named Wendell Baker, who wants to get back on his feet, win back his girlfriend, and run a major hotel. That's all.

Luke Wilson doesn't have to do much to be adorable, and he gets typecast as the sensitive sweetheart so much that it's not surprising he wrote himself into Wendell Baker as a more interesting role. Not that the title character isn't a sweetheart, but he and his seersucker suit sure get themselves in a lot of trouble with the law, even at the expense of his dream girl, Doreen (Eva Mendes). Watching Luke expand his horizons a bit is exciting, and the funniest parts are the ones in which he comes out of his shell and does very un-Luke-Wilson-ish things. In fact, every character is humorous and engaging, with the exception of Doreen - but she's a hot girl, so she's not expected to have a personality, right? (That's ten points from Gryffindor, Wilsons.) The excellent Harry Dean Stanton costars (you probably know him as Roman Grant from "Big Love," but you SHOULD know him as Travis from Paris, Texas, which is a phenomenal film that needs the urgency of a Netflix profiling program's recommendation), as well as Kris Kristofferson and Will Ferrell. Don't recoil in horror - Will Ferrell cameos can still be funny, and the former SNL superstar's bit in Wendell Baker is one is the best part of the entire film.

Even as I say that, I find myself thinking of six other parts that were just as good. Which is surely the mark of a successful film, which is what The Wendell Baker Story is; not only does it prove that the Wilsons can survive without Wes Anderson, but they might even be better off. It's definitely debatable. I certainly was more receptive to this film than I was to The Darjeeling Limited or The Life Aquatic, but then again, The Wendell Baker Story isn't custom crafted with the expectations to break barriers and win any awards. It's fun, it's funny, at times it's even poignant, and best of all, it reminds you that those Wilsons have still got it. I don't know about you, but that alone gives me hope for the future.

SEE ALSO: www.wendellbaker.com
SEE ALSO: www.thinkfilmcompany.com

--
Susan Howson
A staff writer attending graduate school in Richmond, VA, Susan Howson cannot be persuaded to stop talking about movies.

See other articles by Susan Howson.

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