Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe ShowBiz
Director: Craig Johnson
Written by: Daniel Clowes based on his graphic novel
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Isabella Amara, Margo Martindale, Judy Greer
Screened at: Fox, NYC, 3/19/17
Opens: March 24, 2017
If you think the world is going to hell, you’re likely to be in your forties and beyond. This is because you have a background to compare the present situations with those of your childhood and wonder why nobody on the subway is reading newspapers and books anymore and why people spend their daylight and night hours glued to little machines. The title character in screenwriter Daniel Clowes’s graphic novel is such a person; a neurotic, middle-aged man with a subject right up director Craig Johnson’s alley. Johnson’s 2004 film, “The Skeleton Twins,” is about estranged twins who “find” each other when they reunite and realize that the solution to their anxieties is to bond once again. Similarly, Wilson (Woody Harrelson), who is at the end of his ropes living alone and long estranged from his wife Pippi (Laura Dern), discovers that finding the daughter he never knew he had serve as his ticket to maturity.
While Wilson has no use for computers or for the current examples of materialism that he did not grow up with, he also opposes the rules of civility and sees the need to tell people what he thinks of them, damn their reactions. Instead of computers, he has stacks of old paperbacks in his excuse for an apartment, his only close friend being his wire haired fox terrier. Notwithstanding the modesty of his digs, he tells one young woman living outside of city limits “Why the hell do people move to the suburbs…a living death.” And he tells Alta (Margo Martindale), a middle aged woman with whom he shares ice cream in a coffee shop and who allots some time to her iPhone “Aren’t you a little old to be doing all that computer stuff?”
Yes, he’s in a world he did not grow up in, and yes, I recall the world I grew up in when a shoe shine was ten cents and is now three dollars and up. But I’ve learned to live with the times while Wilson is regularly appalled. Perhaps his problem is that he does not go to work like most others, though the viewer can’t help wondering how he can pay the rent, feed himself and his dog, and drive a car with no apparent source of income.
He finds his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern) after his father dies and discovers her working as a server in a restaurant, having conquered her drug habit and given up her job as a hooker. They find the have enough in common to deal with their regularly bullied daughter, a 17-year-old Claire (Isabella Amara) whom he thought had been aborted, bonds again with her though at a heavy cost (three years in jail, don’t ask), and believes he knows the secret of life. A new man.
“Wilson” is a sentimental comedy, perhaps the worst kind of genre in that the sentiment sticks in the throat while the comedy is, well, just not amusing. Woody Harrelson in the role is doubtless doing what director Craig Johnson wants him to do, but the man is just plain irritating, and when someone remains irritating even after he has been transformed into a mature adult, the viewer can feel nothing about the transformation. The movie is short on laughs, long on saccharine, and should have been the fare of some cable show in the afternoon. “Wilson” was filmed in Minnesota.
Rated R. 94 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
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