Which direction do we look to for self-definition — in, out, behind — or is the answer out on the road? Cal (Billy Crudup), who has abandoned his happy home for no readily apparent reason, gets in his car and starts to drive while slowly spinning out of control.
With his childlike approachability and all-American pretty-boy features, Crudup (Jesus’ Son, Almost Famous) comes off as an amateur drunk, swimming in Scotch out of some innate necessity to numb his situation while charming his way into beds all along the road to nowhere. Why? You’re forced to come to your own conclusions. Is he just another asshole on the road killing drinks and spilling sperm across America? Like anybody living a disturbing existence, there’s usually a reasonable basis behind it — something inside so dissatisfied it compels him to break all ties and throw them all away, wife and child included.
Among the lives Cal touches on his modern odyssey are some familiar faces with substance, such as Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and David Keith (An Officer and a Gentleman), along with an exquisitely executed portrait of a white-trash career misfit by Julianne Moore (Magnolia), who continues to wow moviegoers by imbibing unlikely characters with deceptive depth. As Dulcie, Moore embodies Cal’s hopes, fears and future all at once, bringing out the best in him as well as the worst.
And watch James LeGros (Drugstore Cowboy) masterfully mesh super-unhip with a demented undertow in his portrayal of Jack, a blast from Cal’s high-school past. It’s a potent moment when Jack buys Cal a drink, then proceeds to painfully pull and twist Cal from “old friend comfort” to “knife in the ego.”
Directed by Bart Freundlich (The Myth of Fingerprints), World Traveler first unfolds to viewers as if we’re another body in Cal’s path, watching with a curious detachment. But then something happens, and within a few jarring moments the view turns inward, as if we’ve tapped into Cal’s thought processes and emotions, and are all figuring it out at the same time.
This is an important film, existing in a space well beyond entertainment. It’s not doing anything new when it comes to style or technique — it’s just breaking through a few brick walls to understanding the human condition, that’s all; perfectly illustrating why sometimes you have to dive face-first into chaos before you can figure out how to get to “better.”
Showing exclusively at the Birmingham 8 (Old Woodward, S of Maple, Birmingham). Call 248-644-3456.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.