Starring Woody Harrelson. Rated 14A
A rare comic-book movie that improves on its graphic-novel original, Wilson has been expanded and humanized by its original author, Daniel Clowes. Of course, there’s also the bearded presence of Woody Harrelson, who plays the tale’s one-named hero as resolutely cheerful in the face of sequential disasters.
The Seattle-based cartoonist, whose Ghost World proved influential in many ways, drew every page of the 2010 book as stand-alone strips in different styles. That approach can’t be duplicated on-screen, but Clowes’s script, through the agency of director Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins), melds contrasting tones into a more unified whole and fills in what was missing from the tale of a rude, selfish character who only belatedly examines his own shortcomings.
The funny/sad movie is definitely not for people who want to see heartwarming family reunions, or heartwarming anything, really. Wilson is pretty much an asshole—a guy who’ll ask a stranger what he does for a living and then make fun of him for it. A loser with no prospects, he somehow wields the arrogance of utter defeat as a weapon. But Wilson really does love his dog, and when he describes himself as “a people person”, it’s not meant sarcastically. He yearns for deeper connections, and this is tested when his long-estranged father suddenly dies.
Consequently, Wilson heads back to his old St. Louis neighbourhood (the whole movie was shot in Minnesota) and also looks for his ex-wife, Pippi, who walked 17 years earlier. Hers was the most underwritten part of the book, but a volatile Laura Dern and the fleshed-out screenplay don’t let that happen here. Turns out Pippi didn’t have the abortion she announced when they split. And they haphazardly search for the fruit of their loins—an angry, plus-size goth girl (impressive newcomer Isabella Amara)—to make their temporary insta-family complete.
There’s no doubt that Harrelson’s character will remain too caustic, and too impenetrably weird, for many viewers. But there is also dark fun ahead for those willing to take Wilson’s bumpy ride.