Remember those guys in high school that always seemed to have everything and never had to struggle for it? You know, there was always at least one charmed and charming bastard who could skate through life on their looks and friends. Years after you’ve graduated, have you ever wondered what might have happened to them? Well, here’s writer/director Bart Freundlich’s version.
The film opens with a montage of events in the life of Cal (Billy Crudup). Are they past or future? Are they real or imagined? Who knows? Once the editing settles down, we eventually realize that Cal has probably run out on his life, wife, and young son in New York City. However, in beginning his new journey west in the family car, is he just running away, or is he consciously attempting to find something?
Well, as Buckaroo Banzai used to say, “No matter where you go, there you are.” Though Cal seems to be escaping some kind of mess, he only finds or creates new ones wherever he goes. Whether it’s his new friendship with a co-worker on a construction site (Cleavant Derricks) or his attempts to help a drunken woman in a bar (Julianne Moore), every encounter he has with another human being seems cosmically designed to point out to him his inadequacies and failings. Until he begins to address his shortcomings like an adult, we realize (and eventually he does, too) he will never be able to escape them.
Still, Cal didn’t create this vicious cycle on his own. When he was young, his father left him and his mother. Cal always wanted to believe that his dad was some kind of “World Traveler,” too busy to make his way back. When the young boy had ever allowed himself to realize that his father had really moved away to somewhere else, then he had to see the reality that he chose to make his home someplace other than with him.
“World Traveler” did seem completely aimless for the first third. However, once I comprehended where Freundlich was going with this, I began to really enjoy where the film was taking me. While Crudup doesn’t seem nearly as pretty and charismatic as all of the other characters think he is (maybe only George Clooney or Brad Pitt could have lived up what’s played up here), the star is a likable presence as what should be an unlikable and very confused guy. An actor more full of himself and/or less sympathetic would have made this movie unwatchable. If Travolta had starred, I probably would have wanted to set the theatre on fire. A filmmaker with a heavier touch would have ruined it, too. However, with Freundlich and Crudup in the front seat, I found that once I could see the road, I was able to sit back and just enjoy the ride.