Wilson (2017)

  • Time: 94 min
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Director: Craig Johnson
  • Cast: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Isabella Amara, Sandy Oian, Shaun Brown


Harrelson stars as Wilson, a lonely, neurotic and hilariously honest middle-aged misanthrope who reunites with his estranged wife (Laura Dern) and gets a shot at happiness when he learns he has a teenage daughter (Isabella Amara) he has never met. In his uniquely outrageous and slightly twisted way, he sets out to connect with her.


  • Woody Harrelson plays the titular character in Wilson, theoretically to be heralded as both the film adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel and the latest directorial effort from Craig Johnson, whose previous film The Skeleton Twins was a minor masterpiece with major feeling. Wilson comes nowhere close to satisfying as fully as The Skeleton Twins or even 2001’s Ghost World (another film adaptation of a Clowes work), but Harrelson and especially Laura Dern keep one’s interest long after the story does.

    Indeed, watching Dern’s ridiculously pliable and expressive face convey a gamut of emotions is the key delight of Wilson, which centers around Harrelson’s middle-aged curmudgeon whose penchant for critique-laden observations repel rather than attract those around him. His comfortably misanthropic existence, one in which his dog Pepper serves as his only companion, is thrown off-balance when his best friend moves away and Wilson’s dad passes, events which leave Wilson feeling abandoned, unmoored, and feeling his own mortality.

    Wilson tracks down ex-wife Pippi (Dern), a former prostitute and drug addict now on the straight and narrow and working as a waitress at a steak restaurant. He marvels at her appearance, complimenting her for not looking like the “skanky, rat-haired, snaggle-toothed, sore-infested ho” he expected. Two reconnect and, when he wonders what their life would have been like if she hadn’t gotten the abortion and left him 17 years ago, she reveals that she didn’t go through with the abortion but gave up their daughter for adoption. This elates Wilson, who locates their teenage daughter, an angst-filled outsider named Claire (Isabella Amara) living in a wealthy suburban household.

    This dysfunctional family reunion of oddballs, much like the rest of the film, meanders along, unfolding in a series of comic strip-like vignettes. The episodic nature of the narrative sometimes works against the film as does Clowes’ not doing more to flesh out the relatively superficial characterisations from his source work. These make it difficult to have any sort of emotional connection with or investment in the characters.

    Dern overcomes this handicap with the sheer force of her talent – she’s that rare actor that, though one is well aware of her immense talents, still surprises you with the depth of their abilities. Harrelson is not in that particular league but he does a very fine job of essaying Wilson – his idiosyncratic magnetism goes a long way in tempering the character’s unlikeability, though the character’s arc from obnoxious grouch to sentimental family man is a clumsy one to navigate.

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  • In 2017’s Wilson (my latest review), Wilson the persona isn’t played by a volleyball this time around. It’s played by a multi-layered, Woody Harrelson who is in nearly every frame.

    So yeah, Wilson starts off as rather galling and virtually unwatchable in its first twenty minutes. Then the film sneaks up on you, frothing in its effective inquiry of a man who aches for any human connection.

    Wilson has Washington-born director Craig Johnson making something along the lines of About Schmidt meets As Good as It Gets (minus any trace of Jack Nicholson). It’s small scale and small town, a character study that’s easily a slight triumph for Johnson.

    The majority of Wilson is offensively dry, genuinely coarse, and sadly heartbreaking. I liked how the troupe members looked and acted as if they were related in real life. I also enjoyed Wilson’s soft, musical score which seemed to come in at all the right moments.

    Johnson plots his film as an enclosed journey, where Harrelson’s Wilson uncomfortably interacts with strangers and distanced acquaintances over various periods of time (three years gone by to present day to subsequently seventeen years). The whole premise at ninety-four minutes, works as almost every dialogue-driven scene feels bona fide, piteous, and true.

    Wilson’s story involves well, Wilson (Harrelson, whose dramatis personae has no last name). He’s a social inept man, a pseudo-lonely man, and a thoroughly jobless man. As Wilson, Woody Harrelson hams it up in almost every clip. With receding hairline, some black rim glasses, and medium stubble, it’s a role that’s kinda perfect for him. Harrelson’s Wilson is like a friendlier Frank Gallagher type and a poorer Melvin Udall type all rolled up into one. You could even throw in Woody’s own sad sack Roy Munson for straight measure.

    Throughout the flick, Wilson tracks down his estranged wife (Pippi played by Laura Dern) and his estranged, adopted daughter (little-known Isabella Amara as Claire). Eventually, he forms a solid reunion between the three before going to jail for kidnapping said daughter (spoiler).

    In conclusion, I’m gonna include Wilson as an honorable mention for my top ten movie picks of 2017. With its mayberry Minnesota locales, its good casting, and its plethora of sweet and wounding moments, Wilson could be classified as a minor winner. Rating: 3 stars.

    Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

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