Though it’s more portrait than narrative, Woody Harrelson shows real commitment to the kooky, aging extrovert at the beating heart of Wilson.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Eccentric, middle-aged man Wilson (Woody Harrelson) spends his days walking his dog and greeting every person he runs into with a good-natured but uncomfortable amount of friendliness. Long-divorced, lonely, neurotic and craving human connection, he’s fallen into an existential spiral, convinced he’s missed out on a worthwhile life and serves no purpose to anyone. One day, he learns that his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern) is back in town and seeks her out, only for her to reveal that she gave birth to the daughter he was told was aborted, and put her up for adoption. With that ray of hope in his life, Wilson convinces Pippi to help him track down their daughter (Isabella Amara) and try to be a part of her life.
Director Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins) brings another graphic novel of Daniel Clowes (Ghost World) to screen, and the result is similarly amusing, but not quite as successful as either of their previous efforts. While Wilson’s titular character is easy to warm to – or at the very least relate to when he’s spouting nihilistic ramblings – the film as a whole is a little harder to connect with. It seems to aim for the indie comedy field, but it’s less quirky than aggressively strange, and more than a little confronting and bewildering at times. Much of what spills out of Wilson’s mouth is more likely to cause a singular shocked laugh-gasp than a fit of giggles.
It’s a confounding blend of feelings; given that Wilson’s heart is in the right place, he does earn our sympathy in between our grimaces. Thankfully things balance a bit better when Pippi is re-introduced into his life, and he’s given a worn-out and volatile yang to bounce off his kind-hearted ying. It reinforces the fact that Woody Harrelson performs best as part of a double-act (evidenced in everything from White Men Can’t Jump to True Detective). Harrelson and Laura Dern are great together, and when fatherhood is thrust upon Wilson, Harrelson is given more to let him shine opposite his seventeen-year-old, overweight emo daughter Claire (an at-once likeable Isabella Amara). Heart-warmingly, he holds no judgement towards her; he’s just ecstatic to be in her life.
Wilson’s real issue is that there’s just a bit too little meat on its bones to chew on. Outside of its strong central performances, there’s a sense of missed opportunity here to make this a truly compelling take on misfits assembling family. The third act that unravels everything and forces Wilson to start over feels like a misstep; even if it does offer him the opportunity to grow up and complete his arc, it separates the clan just as they’re giving the film its best material. Sentimentality and depth isn’t its strong suit, but Wilson is an entertaining ride, and – with Woody Harrelson on his finest form – worth recommending.
Wilson is available in Australian cinemas from May 25
Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox