Saturday, November 12, 2005

THE WENDELL BAKER STORY - sweet comedy from three of the four Wilson brothers

THE WENDELL BAKER STORY is a rare find - a comedy that is both sweet and subversive. It is well acted, laugh-out loud funny, sweet without making you want to use a sick-bag and "feel good" in the good sense of the phrase.

Wendell Baker makes a living selling fake drivers licenses from a mobile home to illegal Mexican workers in Texas. When he gets out of jail he takes up a job at a retirement home where he makes friends with the residents, has to deal with a mean head nurse, and tries to get back his ex-girlfriend.

The movie has a super cast. Eva Mendes (Will Smith's squeeze in HITCH) is the woman Wendell tries to win back. The residents of the nursing home include Kris Kristoffersen ("The Blade Trilogy") and Harry Dean Stanton ("Paris, Texas"). One of the funniest scenes in the movie centres on Harry Dean Stanton, who is 80 years of age, chatting up two young chicks in a grocery store.

The movie is written by and stars Luke Wilson, perhaps most famous to multiplex movie-goers as the boyfriend, Emmett, in the "Legally Blonde" films. But when not earning the proverbial phat cash from autopilot "cute boyfriend" roles, Luke Wilson is part of the quirky comedy troupe headed by Wes Anderson, who directed "Bottle Rocket", "Rushmore", The Royal Tenenbaums and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou". The movie also stars Luke's brother Owen and Seymour Cassell, who are also Wes Anderson regulars.

I think that THE WENDELL BAKER STORY's cast has mis-led some viewers into expecting it to be like a Wes Anderson movie. But they should remember that it is OWEN, not LUKE, Wilson who collaborates with Anderson on his screenplays. This is a very different movie. Less visually indulgent, less blackly funny, and more of a straightforward romantic comedy. Luke and Andrew Wilson (another brother and the director of the movie) should be judged on their own efforts, and while THE WENDELL BAKER STORY is not going to revolutionise the movie industry, it does make us laugh.

I don't know of any release dates for this movie, but it is doing the Festival circuit so keep an eye out...I suspect it may end up (undeservedly) in "straight to video" hell.


  1. As a side note referring to the "straight to video hell", I was suprised to learn that hollywood studios' revenues from ticket sales are below 20% of total revenues.

    I found Slate's article to be well worth a read:

  2. Sure - 20% for domestic gross sounds right. In many ways a cinematic release is just a test run for the DVD where the money is really made. An extreme example is Oliver Stone recutting Alexander for DVD.

    But even overseas gross can save a movie. Kevin Costner's Waterworld is always remembered as being a complete flop but made most of its money back in the overseas market.

    And I would love to see what percentage of the take from 50 Cent's new movie comes from the soundtrack and ultra-violent video game.....

  3. This movie is now on release in Dubai (playing at the Mall of the Emirates). I am going to see it this weekend. Want to come along? Perhaps Sunday.