Aida Vucic | 28/05/2017
He’s a reclusive, temperamental, unapologetically rude protagonist that’s an absolute delight to watch. He’s Wilson.
The story follows Wilson (Woody Harrelson), whose life is seemingly dismal with no companions other than his adorable Scottish terrier Pepper. He is shaken from his slumber by the sudden death of his father. With no family or friends, Wilson’s left to reflect upon his life and the family he nearly had.
Which leads him to track down his estranged ex-wife, Pipi (played by Laura Dern), who’s as equally misguided as Wilson, having had what is described as “a few bad years”, where she indulged in recreational drug abuse and pursued an occupation in prostitution. Upon their reunion, Pipi reveals that, despite Wilson’s assumption, she never had an abortion; instead placing their child up for adoption. This news gives a new sense of purpose to Wilson’s life and, with the help of Pipi, they track down their offspring, who seems to have inherited Wilson’s disdain for people and general hostility towards the world.
Wilson’s endeavours to create the family he never had sees him incarcerated for 2.5 years and forces him to once again reevaluate his life. Alternating between an interesting character study and a clear defiance against society’s tend towards suburbia, technology and all the other plagues of modern age, including the ideal of normality, Wilson is a remarkably engaging piece.
Laura Dern is a breath of fresh air, and many of the other supporting actors turn in solid performances, but it is the titular character who steals the show. Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of Wilson is brilliant. He imparts his signature style on the character, and we laugh as we watch Harrelson seemingly enjoy verbally and physically assaulting perfect strangers, while also happily invading their personal space and relishing at their discomfort. Alas, even his performance is unable to salvage the film from its material shortcomings, including a lack of consistency and a failure to provide sufficient closure to the character’s state of affairs.
Though Daniel Clowes excels at writing novels capturing hermetic lives and their struggles at adjusting with the changing times, his screenplay doesn’t quite achieve its potential. Craig Johnson works hard to balance this melancholy comedy with an upbeat soundtrack and a bright set that is in complete contrast to the nature of its main character, and in many respects this is the needed dose of levity to remedy the film’s dark nature. Indeed, it is this effort that prevents Wilson from falling into what could otherwise have been a dark, dingy and depressing hole.
Wilson is a remarkably enjoyable character piece, but struggles to place a solid finger on what issues it definitively wants to talk about, and as such winds up presenting a half-baked premise wrapped in a wonderful lead performance, with enough heart and depth to leave you interested, but not enough to have you thinking about the film long after the curtain closes.
Despite his grouchy, pessimistic persona, the titular character in Wilson will, unexpectedly, wrap you up in his view of the world. It’s just a shame that view isn’t a clearer, more revolutionary one.