To me, Luke Wilson is an underrated actor. Because even though he rarely gets showy roles, he’s good in everything that he does get. Be it comedy or drama, he can do it. And even though his brother Owen is the more charismatic and popular actor, Luke has an understated presence that I always enjoy. It’s a shame that he’s been relegated to TV commercials recently.
Here’s a look at my five favourite performances of Mr. Wilson’s. I plan to make this into a regular feature about different actors.
1. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
As Richie Tenenbaum, a failed tennis prodigy, Wilson is put through the ringer in what is arguably Wes Anderson’s most beloved film. And he nails every bizarre, twisted emotion perfectly. To me, Richie is the heart of this film. While sister Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the most overtly morose and brother Chas (Ben Stiller) is the most overtly neurotic, Richie is a beaten-down, strangely sympathetic character. Wilson also provides the film’s emotional climax with a particular memorable scene taking place in the bathroom.
2. Henry Poole is Here (2008)
This is not an especially great film, but Wilson is quite good in it, I think. His character is very repressed (some would say mopey), and Wilson brings the perfect combination of depression and guarded hopefulness to this quietly desperate character. Some of the other characters descend into caricature, but Wilson keep his Henry Poole grounded. He’s the only thing I remember about the film, to be honest (well, him and the impossibly cute little girl).
3. Bottle Rocket (1996)
Though I liked Bottle Rocket, I didn’t love it quite as much I wanted to. But for me, the real reason to watch it, rather than story or direction (sorry, Wes Anderson) is to see the Wilson brothers in their very first feature film roles. Once again playing a repressed foil to Owen’s vivacious charmer, Luke plays a man recovering from a nervous breakdown. However, Bottle Rocket is less heavy-handed than the first two films on this list. Director Wes Anderson’s signature “quirky” style was already very present in this first film of his, and the Wilson brothers both play off it very well.
4. The Family Stone (2005)
Luke Wilson is often good at elevating the material of his films, which is lucky, considering a lot of the questionable movies he’s appeared in. One of these was The Family Stone. Mind you, I did not dislike this movie as much as a lot of people did, but it was a pretty rote rom-com, with one of those annoyingly high-profile casts. But while some seemed to be phoning it in (Dermot Mulroney, Diane Keaton), Wilson made the best of the trite material and turned in a highly charming performance as the goofy slacker Ben.
5. Legally Blonde (2001)
Wilson plays the straight man to Reece Witherspoon’s bubbly Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, and he does it very well. He is low-key enough to let Witherspoon shine (since it is her movie, after all), but he also brings enough charm to prevent his character from becoming completely flat. There’s nothing wrong with a suave, likeable leading man in a romantic comedy sometimes, and Wilson does the job beautifully.
Yet to See: Idocracy, The Wendell Baker Story, Old School, Middle Men, Vacancy