Daniel Clowes is one of a handful of writers in the industry that when I see his name attached to a project I can’t help but be curious to see what he’s up to. In 2001 he wrote Ghost World, which was based on the comic he created. It was an independent film smash, and I’d consider it a cult sensation. Then he had Art School Confidential that had the same humor and a great cast, but it just didn’t seem to connect as well with audiences. I love the odd little characters Clowes manages to bring to life, despite many being so over-the-top, he manages to somehow keep them grounded in reality. So when the offer came along to review Wilson, the new film he’s written based off his graphic novel, it was an offer I couldn’t pass up.
Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is one of those guys who at some point we’ve all come across, the one who just manages to offend you by his very presence, and when he opens his mouth he manages to say the least appropriate thing. He’s been divorced for 17 years, and his most loyal companion is his dog. Wilson is definitely a frustrating guy who you can understand how no one could really want to be around, though when his father dies, as a member of the audience we still manage to feel some empathy with the guy. Out of fear of dying alone, Wilson reaches out to attempt to find his ex-wife.
Pippi (Laura Dern) has had a rough time over the years since leaving Wilson, and she is still trying to get her life in order when he shows up unexpectedly. The chemistry between Harrelson and Dern is one of the best things the film has going for it. When Pippi lets it slip that Wilson has a daughter who was put up for adoption, well, this turns out to be the best news that Wilson could have expected, and he becomes motivated to find his daughter and attempt to make a connection with her.
It doesn’t take long before Wilson manages to find his daughter, and he drags Pippi along for them to unite and attempt to be some sort of a family again. Claire (Isabella Amara) is charming, and we can see how she has inherited some of Wilson’s personality quirks, but as you would expect she’s the oddball in this family dynamic, because, well, she’s actually normal by comparison.
This all leads to an odd final act that simply went on for too long. I’m not going to spoil anything, but the direction the film takes with these characters just didn’t work for me, nor did it feel appropriate when considering the previous two-thirds of the film I had just watched. Is it the editing? Is it the source material? Or is it the director Craig Johnson? Well, I think it’s a mix of all three.
Ending aside, there is another issue I’d like to point out that really bothered me with the film: it’s how easy things seem to work out for Wilson. Nothing is earned by the character, no lessons are learned for him, and if not for the casting of Harrelson I think my opinion of the film wouldn’t be so favorable. Being blunt, the character of Wilson is rude, abrasive, and has no understanding of boundaries, but Harrelson manages to sprinkle in his charm that makes the character somehow endearing. Harrelson comes off so genuine and funny in this performance that despite how unlikeable this character may seem, this is still one of my favorite performances I’ve seen Harrelson give (but his portrayal of Larry Flynt will always be his best in my opinion).
While the film didn’t make the impression as the previous works of Daniel Clowes, I still enjoyed the film, and it has plenty of funny sequences throughout. If you’re a fan of Woody Harrelson, this is a title I’d definitely recommend. With so many titles opening up this week and the upcoming weeks, Wilson is a film that’s going to get lost in the shuffle, but hopefully it will find an audience on Blu-ray and Netflix.