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'World Traveler'

Architect flies the coop in 'World Traveler'

Friday, May 10, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

America -- it's been said a few thousand times -- loves a road movie. "World Traveler" is a good, imperfect, but original one.

 
 
'World Traveler'

RATING: R for adult sexual themes and language

STARRING: , Julianne Moore

DIRECTOR: Bart Freundlich

CRITIC'S CALL:

   
 

The Ulysses of this odyssey is charming, sexy Cal (Billy Crudup), an egocentric architect who suddenly abandons his wife, son and cozy lifestyle in New York's West Village for an elusive "something better" on the road.

On his first stop, as a day laborer on a construction site, he befriends a sweet black man (Cleavant Derricks), gets him drunk, then makes an unscrupulous play for his wife.

"You get away with this because you look like that?" she reproves, slapping him. He skulks off, abashed -- for the moment. Cal is a superb pickup artist, a guy who can make his entrance, exit or getaway anytime, anywhere. Sex and feigned love for hitchhiker Liane Balaban? Fast evaporated: He ditches her at an airport. But he meets his match -- something more and less than romance -- in Dulcie (Julianne Moore), whose existential dilemma is parallel to but more darkly complicated than his own.

Along the way, he has a deliciously hateful encounter with a repulsive old high-school pal (James LeGros), full of meaningless chit-chat about classmates he doesn't remember. Later, in Oregon, there's a more meaningful reunion with the estranged father (David Keith) he hasn't seen since childhood. You pop in on Pops after 23 years, you should expect some pretty heavy fallout -- each calling the other on the emotional carpet.

Bottom line? "Just do one good thing," Cal concludes, with mad, mysterious Moore in mind.

Director Bart Freundlich ("The Myth of Fingerprints") has Moore in mind, too: They live together in real life, and she's an Oscar-nominated ("Boogie Nights," "The End of the Affair") treasure of an actress, whom he directs in chillingly brilliant form here.

He succeeds likewise with Crudup ("Jesus' Son," "Almost Famous"), eliciting a paradoxical combination of vulnerability and bravado. Crudup is excellent in his boozy, belligerent monologues to random people in random watering holes with nothing but Willie Nelson on the jukebox -- All Willie, All the Time!

Damn good Willie Nelson music, in fact, especially "You Were Only Foolin', While I Was Fallin' in Love" and the great "Getting Over You" to-die-for duet with Bonnie Raitt.

Visually, Freundlich treats us to a travelogue of gorgeous images, highlighted by a delirious small-town Montana carnival and wrenchingly beautiful aerial shots of the World Trade Towers in Manhattan.

But most important is Freundlich's economy of means in the storytelling: A brief shot of Cal tucking in his shirt in the morning light of a motel room is all we need to inform us of the girl and the night before.

"World Traveler" shines with such intelligent, non-formulaic writing -- up to its too-perfect conclusion. Cal, an architect by trade, is also the architect of his own unhappiness: You don't get a better life until you become a better person.

Yes, well ... Perhaps we knew that in advance.

The payoff is less perspicacious than the predicament, but redemptively satisfying anyway.

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