Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
Wilson is not a very good movie, but I laughed a lot. By a comedy's standards, that suggests it succeeded at its most difficult hurdle, and it also helps that my love for misanthropic grumps is incredibly high. Up until its titular character is sent to prison for kidnapping his biological daughter with his ex-wife, I was admiring the film's Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque convictions and its humor. It's a film that admirably took the tougher route of looking at behavioral etiquette and the things Wilson would say that were uncomfortable to strangers. But after the aforementioned sequence, the film dials back on humor and its tone way too much to wrap up cleanly, and more than once, I was just waiting for Luciano Michelini's "Frolic" to play us out.
The titular character is a socially awkward, brutally honest bloke who has gone through life with a cynical, but not malicious attitude. Who better for the part than Woody Harrelson, who could sleepwalk such a role but still gives the character great life and a balanced amount of energy? He lives a lonely life, one of few friends and the sole companionship of his terrier, who could be his gateway to conversation if he were just a tad more socially relaxed. Consider a moment where a woman stops to pet Wilson's pup on the sidewalk one day and asks how the little guy is doing. "I'm doing good, but I've been a bad boy," Wilson says in his best doggy voice before the woman shoots him a strange glare and walks off. "People get very weirded out when you talk to them with the fake dog voice," he observes over narration.
As Wilson comfortably rests in the gap many would call "middle-age," he yearns for companionship but cannot make it work. He decides to track down and rekindle with his ex-wife Pippi, played by Laura Dern, who left him when she was pregnant. Having assumed she aborted the child, Wilson finds her as a down-on-her-luck waitress who gave birth to a baby girl but quickly gave her up for adoption. They discover their daughter is a sweet teenager named Claire (Isabella Amara), who has been outcast by her peers due to her being overweight. Wilson and Pippi try to spend time with her without her adoptive parents knowing, something that gets them both arrested and jailed for kidnapping when they vacation by Pippi's passive-aggressive sister's home (her sister played by Curb Your Enthusiasm anchor Cheryl Hines).
Woody Harrelson, Sandy Oian, Shaun Brown
24 March 2017
Steve's Grade: B-
I was laughing frequent and loudly for the first hour ofWilson. Its comedy was both humbly vulgar but never negative. Unlike Bad Santa or Bad Words, both great films in their own right, Wilson is a charming character but the kind of person that always seems to catch you waiting for the train or walking down the street when you're in a hurry or in a bad mood. He's not an ill-tempered or unreasonable soul, but he's a bit too forward in what he says to people and how he handles everyday social encounters.
The film's theatrical poster - a largely pea-green one-sheet with the eye-popping text mirroring the graphic novel on which the film is based - shows Wilson standing at a urinal adjacent to another man when several other urinals appear unoccupied to the left of him, taken from an actual moment in the film. This is the perfect summation of his character.
Wilson is not a character that needs to be reformed, but unfortunately, screenwriter Daniel Clowes (who wrote the original graphic novel and various others, including Ghost World) feels that, by the end of the film, Wilson needs to change his ways at least a little bit, enough where he's not the hilarious presence he once was. It's one thing to have a happy ending, but for it to come at the expense of a character who was not a bad person by any means feels cheap.
If you were even worse than me, and took cues from various comedies and dramas, and thought that, in general, that's how the world was, you would think people reformed themselves and drastically changed all the time. You would presume that a person would be five or six different people throughout their lives upon having an incredible revelation about this or that. The "reformed character" plot in movies has been done far too much, and when I see it happen to a character as charmingly eccentric, if overbearing, as Wilson, it almost becomes disheartening.
Wilson can be very funny, however. Another hilarious scene unfolds when Wilson meets an old friend named Orson, played by popular "that guy" actor David Warshofsky, an argumentative buffoon in need of a good reformation. "Do you want some beet-juice," he angrily asks Wilson. "F*** no," Wilson says, almost starting a new sentence between those words given the lengthier-than-normal pause he takes.
Moments like these make Wilson almost worthy of a no strings attached recommendation, but there was an admitted frustration that brewed inside me when I saw the film slow its role for a less urgent, dramatic change in tone for the final twenty minutes or so. Curb Your Enthusiasm manifested its way into being a work of television brilliance with Larry David playing a bold character and orchestrating some of the craziest subplots. Wilson gets close to replicating it in a very watered down spirit but dilutes it too much in the home-stretch.