The Wendell Baker Story
2007Director: Luke & Andrew Wilson
Cast: Seymour Cassel, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson
ssuming the Wilson brothers are actually three slightly varied manifestations of some bizarre hive mind (they aren't?), we should have been able to infer a lot about The Wendell Baker Story from their collaborations with Wes Anderson, particularly Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums. Had we performed such an exercise, what might we have expected from this film? Male rascals, young and old, probably misfits, all running slightly afoul of the law but, in the end, basically lovable; a healthy dose of kitsch; stylized dialogue; and some sort of outrageously inappropriate love interest.
Apart from a cheerful octogenarian perched for a few minutes on Owen's knee at the state-owned retirement hotel he runs, viewers hoping for a prominent case of forbidden love will be largely disappointed. Otherwise, the film largely satisfies generic expectations.
Luke Wilson stars as the titular hero, a charming naïf who runs a rather conspicuous operation on the banks of the Rio Grande selling fake IDs to illegal immigrants. He inevitably gets busted and, after displaying an interest in the hospitality industry, eventually paroled to a work-release program at the aforementioned state-owned retirement hotel run by Neil King (Owen Wilson) along with his henchman, McTeague (Eddie Griffin). Wendell soon discovers, or rather hears directly from Neil, that residents are shipped off-site to a ranch owned by Neil's mother in order to skim off their Medicare checks. With support from oldsters Boyd (Seymour Cassel) and Skip (Harry Dean Stanton), Wendell sets out to return the exiled residents and generally make things right.
While the film certainly has its moments and shows some filmmaking potential, for much of the time it just doesn't seem to work. At the most basic technical level, even the voices don't seem to have been recorded well, as they're mixed surprisingly low compared to the solidly enjoyable country/country-rock soundtrack. The shots are often extreme close-ups, maybe from the eyebrow to just below the lips, seemingly appropriate either for high drama or full-on parody, though most of the action here falls somewhere in between.
The action is mostly split up into small, under-developed scenes, although the bit at the grocery store is a delightful exception. After meeting his soon-to-be arch-enemy (Will Ferrell playing the store manager in one of his more restrained cameos) at the checkout counter, Wendell spots his ex, Doreen (Eva Mendes), and stalks her throughout the store before eventually getting punched out for his efforts. He comes to an understanding with Doreen while Ferrell's character makes outrageous, hostile faces at him in the background.
Scenes like this make the best of a sometimes awkward combination of genuine drama or romance and spoof comedy familiar from the Wes Anderson films. Indeed, by the end the Wilson brothers' enduring sweetness seems an asset, particularly as embodied in Kris Kristofferson's gentle, shy, and retiring oil magnate. While I'm not prepared to praise this particular movie too highly, it should be very interesting to see what these cantankerous Texans come up with next.
The Wendell Baker Story is currently in limited release.
By: Andy Slabaugh
Published on: 2007-05-24