The Brothers Grin

"I always had the sense that he's an underutilized, unvalued resource," Ivan Reitman says of Luke Wilson, above, who stars in the director's latest, "My Super Ex-Girlfriend." (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 20, 2006


Of all the Randy Quaids and Beau Bridgeses and Jim Belushis and Jeb Bushes, in walks the man who is our era's most definitive answer to the question: Is there another one like you at home?

Why indeed there is, and he is Luke Wilson, forever the baby bro. He gets paid a little less coin than Owen, and isn't on as many magazine covers, and this unnerves him not in the least. You know him from so many gently-befuddled-boyfriend roles in movies.

In this new one -- "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," a comedy with a sci-fi kick to the groin region, opening tomorrow -- he is repeatedly beaten up by Uma Thurman, who plays a Manhattan superheroine with crazy-lady issues. It's Luke Wilson's biggish chance to open a biggish movie. Uma dangles him from the Statue of Liberty, and throws a badly animated great white shark at him. She leaves dents in his walls and holes in his ceiling and busts his bedframe with her supergasms. In a fit of stereotyped, must-be-her-period rage, she burns the vice president's first name onto his forehead. (You've seen the ads. You get it.)

Lazy late afternoon, a series of interconnected hotel rooms 41 floors above a miserably moist city, and a movie star is being told where to go all day long, with a girl following him around whose job it is to make sure his dark brown, flyaway hair is flying away just so.

His mouth is a sideways apostrophe punctuating a sturdy jaw. His eyes are dopey sweet. He has a small, orangey, Chef Boyardee-colored smudge of sauce on his baby-blue, all-snaps Western shirt, and on him it works. He never claimed to be a stud muffin, and consequently, he does not have the body of one, and paradoxically, this is what makes him one. (Part of being a Wilson brother, or like a Wilson brother, is surrendering to the torso, the beer tummy, the gravity-tas. He never hurries with what he is saying, which is also part of the Wilson thing, that awkward coolness. Some men work really hard to have this demeanor, instead of abs.

"Uh, yeah, a kind of -- yeah," is a quote from him. "I was kinda -- just sort of didn't want to seem like, I don't know, like the guy didn't have an eddddge," is another quote, describing the apparent Stanislavsky method he brought to his part in "My Super Ex-Girlfriend." But it never sounds dumb! It sounds clever, patient, admirably aloof. He is happy and yawny, and so nice.

Bob and Laura Wilson, who made all this, come from comfortable Irish Catholic stock, and left the cute little Massachusetts towns they grew up in (it was "like the rural New England described by Robert Frost," she said in one interview). The Wilsons went to Texas, courtesy of his job with the Scott Paper Co. The boys have said their dad always reminded them of vintage Jack Nicholson, only a tad more effete -- Luke still loves to do impressions of him trying to order a beer at a Texas barbecue joint: "Um, yes, Sonny, I'll -- I'll -- ha-have a Heineken, please," to which big Sonny bellows, "Bud er Bud Layght?" with scorn. Later, he was a public-TV executive. Their mother is an accomplished portrait photographer who worked as Richard Avedon's assistant in the 1970s as he shot his American West pictures.

Mr. and Mrs. Wilson also set about having sons. Back in the '60s and early '70s, they must have been conducting something experimental in their suburban Dallas garage -- something scientific as well as reproductive in theory. They had bubbly beakers and wires hooked up to consoles. Here was their plan:

Let's have just boys, no girls -- just three really cool and quirky and not-so-jocky sons, but let's also have them be human Labradors. People will love them. They need to be funny, and let's work on the voice: It has to be this exact combination of prep-school stoner and John Wayne. We'll send them to St. Mark's, a Dallas prep school where Owen will forever be remembered as the brother who got expelled for swiping a geometry test off a teacher's desk. They'll spend their summers at your mother's back in Massachusetts. They'll do skits in the back yard for the neighbors.

People will want to pet our sons. Owen will get the nickname "the Butterscotch Stallion" from his fans, who will be enraptured by his thrice-broken nose. Luke will go with Drew Barrymore for a while, and then Gwyneth Paltrow for a while, but mostly the world will regard the boys as hapless cads. They will almost always be cast as bachelors, well into their thirties, and the box office will, for a while, reflect a desire to scratch the Wilson Brothers' bellies. Our boys: Let's make them smart, too. Sometimes they'll write intricate, long screenplays for art-house movies, and even direct, and make the scene at earnest film festivals. But let's make them slackers, also. Sometimes they will really phone it in .

They'll grow up and separately be in a lot of remakes of old TV shows -- "Starsky and Hutch," "Charlie's Angels," "I Spy" -- co-starring some combination of Will Ferrell, and/or Vince Vaughn, and/or Ben Stiller, and/or a Wilson brother. Once in a while they will be directed by their longtime buddy, Wes Anderson, in his hyperdetailed and ruminative manner, in the poetic "The Royal Tenenbaums" or "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," or . . . well, Hollywood will figure it out.

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