Directors: Luke and Andrew Wilson
As he explains on the DVD, while driving between Dallas and Austin, actor Luke Wilson came up with an idea for a character who makes a living issuing fake Texas state licenses and identification cards complete the complicated “holographic technology” to illegal migrant workers who have crossed the border. While this couldn’t be more topical given our current political environment and immigration issues that populate the evening news, Wilson’s Wendell Baker doesn’t see a problem with the situation. In fact he figures that since the minimum wage is increasing and farmers can’t afford it, they can pay less to Mexican laborers who are in need of work and since the increase of workers is adding to the foot traffic across the border, the amount of patrolmen will increase too. Simply put, to Wendell, the whole thing means more jobs for everyone all around which will make everyone happy and more importantly, keep him in the ID business. It’s this kind of simplistic, idealistic yet oddly upbeat if at times nonsensical logic that pops up throughout The Wendell Baker Story which was penned by and stars Luke Wilson who co-directed the film with eldest brother Andrew along with making sure that of course, he would give a plum comedic villain role to his brother Owen. Of course, likable conning slacker Wendell eventually gets caught and after the police refuse to deport him to Mexico (his idea and preference), he is thrown in jail where, despite missing girlfriend Doreen (Eva Mendes) and best friend Reyes (Jacob Vargas) he enjoys himself enough with sports in the yard and discovering his calling after a trip to the library introduces him to the career of hotel management. After numerous unsuccessful attempts at parole, Wendell is finally released and given employment at Shady Grove Retirement Hotel which is run by crook Neil King (Owen Wilson) and McTeague (Eddie Griffin). Just after he arrives at Shady Grove, Wendell realizes just how shady the place is when he befriends a trio of elderly residents (Harry Dean Stanton, Seymour Cassell and Kris Kristofferson) who fill him in on Neil’s tendency to sell resident’s medication on the black market and also give residents he’s tired of the “greyhound treatment” which consists of stealing part of their social security checks and packing them off to his mother’s farm in Oklahoma. Featuring a cameo by Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson’s first foray into filmmaking is feel good fun but ultimately forgettable but there’s much to be said for the hilarious little details (the plot alone is ingenious) that help keep us watching along with the sheer enjoyment of seeing the Brothers Wilson in action. As Stephen Holden wrote in his review for The New York Times, “The appeal of The Wendell Baker Story depends on how charming you find the Wilson brothers, with their chipmunk grins and hip smart-aleck attitude.” For Holden and for me as a fan of the brothers since they burst onto the scene with Bottle Rocket, their charm is what keeps us involved. Be sure to explore the additional features on the DVD as not only is there a typical making of featurette but also a funny and slightly uncomfortable afternoon with Andrew and Luke Wilson who entertain Harry Dean Stanton and Seymour Cassell and chat about their legendary careers.