Shiny Shelf

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL: The Wendall Baker Story

By Stephen Lavington on 26 October 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Top of the US indie food chain at the moment appears to be a genre best described as the whimsical jaunt – a brief snapshot of life for an eccentric character, usually centring on some kind of life-changing experience. (‘Orange State’, ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ and ‘Garden State’.) All tend to feature oddball companions, a series of wacky set-pieces, lovingly shot sequences of local country-ide and a life-affirming, usually amusing, climactic scene to leave audiences with the warm and fuzzies.

‘The Wendell Baker Story’ sits snugly in this category. A Wilson brothers collaboration it stars Luke and Owen and was directed by Luke and Andrew (a Wilson hitherto unknown to me). Luke takes the eponymous role, a Texan conman who, busted by the government for forging illegal ID cards for Mexican immigrants, loses his girl while in prison and sets out to win her back with the help of the lovable old codgers at his new place of employ, evil Neil King’s (Owen Wilson) retirement home. Except it isn’t really. That’s something that just sort of happens. Most of the film is taken up with fixing the injustices of the gulag-like nursing home and teaching its inmates how to live again.

If it sounds muddled and somewhat unpromising, that’s a fair reflection of the movie itself, but redemption – of a sort – comes from some enjoyable performances. Wilsons Owen and Luke just look like they’re having a bit of fun, an approach which has never failed them in the past, Will Ferrell turns in his usual genius cameo, played absolutely straight, and Harry Dean Stanton and Seymour Boyd make for a particularly lecherous geriatric duo. Kris Kristofferson’s enigmatic Nasherr strikes a duff note. A major bit of character development comes completely out of the blue, with no foreshadowing and his performance would have been helped if anyone had told him what, exactly, he was supposed to be doing.

Disliking this film would be like kicking a puppy, but it is sadly not the best of its breed. It takes more than an offbeat storyline, some pretty tracking shots of Texan diners and a twangy Johnny Cash style soundtrack to make this sort of thing work.

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By Stephen Lavington

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