Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Cal drags a woman out of a bar to look at the stars and listen to his rants about the universe. She pulls loose and asks, "Do you get away with this crap because you look like that?" Later in the film two kids will ask him if he's a movie star. He's good-looking, in a morose, tormented way, but it's more than that; Cal is charismatic, and strangers are fascinated by his aura of doom and emptiness.
There is another new movie, "About a Boy," with a hero who complains that he's a "blank." The dialogue is needed in "World Traveler." Although others are fascinated by Cal's loneliness, with his drinking, his lack of a plan, his superficial charm, he is a blank. Early in the film he walks out on his marriage, on the third birthday of his son. Taking the family station wagon, he drives west across the United States and into the emptiness of his soul.
Cal is played by Billy Crudup, one of the best actors in the movies, but there needs to be something there for an actor to play, and Cal is like a moony poet who embraces angst as its own reward. Throwing back Jack Daniels in the saloons of the night, he doesn't have a complaint so much as celebrate one. When we discover that his own father walked out on Cal and his mother, that reads like a motivation but doesn't play like one. It seems too neat--the Creative Writing explanation for his misery.
The film, written and directed by Bart Freundlich, is a road picture, with Cal meeting and leaving a series of other lonely souls without ever achieving closure. It's as if he glimpses them through the windows of his passing car. There's a young hitchhiker who implies an offer of sex, which he doesn't accept. A construction worker named Carl (Cleavant Derricks) who wants friendship and thinks Cal offers it, but is mistaken. A high school classmate (James LeGros, bitingly effective) who provides us with evidence that Cal has been an emotional hit-and-run artist for a long time. Finally there is Dulcie (Julianne Moore), who is drunk and passed out in a bar.