'Wilson' fails to humanize its cartoonish title character

By michael O'Sullivan The Washington Post - Updated: March 23, 2017 at 6:11 am • Published: March 24, 2017 0
photo - (L-r) Woody Harrelson as Wilson, Isabella Amana as Claire and Laura Dern as Pippi in "Wilson." MUST CREDIT: Wilson Webb, Fox Searchlight Pictures
(L-r) Woody Harrelson as Wilson, Isabella Amana as Claire and Laura Dern as Pippi in "Wilson." MUST CREDIT: Wilson Webb, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Starring Woody Harrelson, Sandy Oian, Shaun Brown, Laura Dern, Judy Greer; directed by Craig Johnson; 41 minutes; R for language throughout and some sexuality

"I believe that every one of us has a story to tell."

So begins the dry, voice-over narration of the film "Wilson," courtesy of Woody Harrelson in the title role. Wilson, a middle-aged misanthrope, is based on a character created by Daniel Clowes in his graphic novel of the same name. Clowes - whose "Ghost World" and "Art School Confidential" have previously been made into films - adapted his 2010 book for this screen version, directed by Craig Johnson of "The Skeleton Twins."

Wilson may be correct - that we all have something to get off our chests - but the evidence presented by this sour-to-the-point-of-toxic bellyacher suggests that not all of our ravings are equally worth telling, or hearing.

Wilson's insistent anti-charisma kills whatever inherent charm his story possesses, in its narrative of a jerk attempting to bond with the daughter he never knew he had.

Over the course of the film, Wilson - who has no visible means of support but mocks people, like an I.T. consultant, for their jobs - learns that his ex-wife (Laura Dern) did not have an abortion after she left him several years ago, as he believed. "Wilson" is the kind of film that expects a laugh when we learn that his ex is named Pippi - as in Longstocking - and that she now sports a tattoo on her lower back reading "Property of Sir D.A.D.D.Y. Big D---." Wilson, at another point, creeps out some dude standing next to him at a urinal by complimenting the stranger on his, er, equipment.

Again, that's meant to be funny.

The movie centers on Wilson's attempt to establish some kind of rapport with his now-teenage daughter (Isabella Amara), who was given up for adoption, although the film gives us no reason to believe that he has ever successfully connected with a human being before. What may have worked on the pages of a book-length cartoon comes across as merely cartoonish when enacted by live actors.

At least here it does. Steve Buscemi's similarly misfit Seymour in "Ghost World" managed to evoke a dyspeptic pity from the audience that Wilson, alas, cannot, despite the film's strenuous efforts to humanize him. There's a story here, all right, but it's a heartless and bitter one.

Michael O'Sullivan, The Washington Post

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