Review by Siobhán Rich for Mr. Will Wong
Woody Harrelson’s Wilson is a bit of a grump. His verbal filter appears to be nonexistent as he continues to share his ennui and general disdain of modern life with everyone around him regardless of their interest in him or his opinions. When Robert, Wilson’s only friend moves away, he has his wife, Jodie, to break the new and yet looks slightly relieved at the thought of never having to deal with Wilson ever again. The only person who seems to genuinely like the titular character is his dog, Pepper.
After his father’s death, Wilson decides to search for his ex-wife, Pippi (Laura Dern). Having embarrassed her at her place of employment, Wilson attempts to reconnect by talking about how their divorce affected him. During this conversation, he discovers that Pippi opted not to have an abortion as he always believed, and instead gave their daughter up for adoption. Thankfully, tracking down adopted children is remarkably easy and in quick order he learns his daughter, Claire (Isabella Amara), lives in town and decides to insert himself into her life.
Despite Harrelson’s best efforts, his character never evolves beyond annoying. His ability to talk Pippi and Claire into following along with his ill-conceived plans fails to make him endearing and instead makes their characters less believable.
Screenwriter David Clowes (Ghost World) also wrote the Graphic Novel on which the Movie is based. This probably explains why Wilson seems like one of the truer adaptations in recent memory. Clowes’ desire to fit in as many details as possible from the Book make the Movie a bit of a mess with scenes going on for too long and otherwise interesting characters, like dog walker Shelly (Judy Greer), given short shrift.
Craig Johnson’s most recent directing effort, 2014’s well-received The Skeleton Twins, also featured reunions, unlikable characters, and a stellar cast. That, however, is where the similarities end. One of the movie’s greatest tragedies is its unevenness: even during the most emotionally wrought scenes, the audience finds itself waiting for a punchline. The death of Wilson’s father is meant to be a tragic turning point, but it feels like this irreverent man would hardly choose pathos over a cheap joke.
If solid performances make a Movie worth seeing then Wilson should be at the top of everyone’s list. Harrelson, Dern, Amara and Greer breathe life into their characters giving depth to a Movie which focuses on unlikable people being… well, unlikable. Wilson works best when Harrelson winks at the audience, acknowledges the caricature, and embraces it.
Fox Searchlight release Wilson on Friday, March 24, 2017.