Wilson – Movie Review
Rating: B (Good)
Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures
Daniel Clowes’s style of graphic novels, about real people in absurd comic situations, lends itself well to filmmaking. The prime example is Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, a brilliant translation from comic to screen. With Wilson, Clowes adapts his own source material and does so with the proper humour and its episodic storytelling device fits the unpredictable nature of its title character. Even as it starts to sag a little in the last act, it produces the required number of laughs and the actors are all game in playing their roles, particularly Woody Harrelson as the eccentric Wilson and Laura Dern as his ex-wife Pippi.
Director Craig Johnson sets the tone fairly quickly with Wilson, as the main character proves himself to be a nuisance with everyone he comes across. This was a character that would have been easy to hate and root for his comeuppance through the course of the film. However, Harrelson is able to imbue a certain amount of sweetness in the role, even as he states some fairly offensive things. The weirdly episodic nature of the film fits Wilson’s mind as he jumps from one location to another. In the end, he just wants to be liked, despite his lack of a filter. Laura Dern serves as an excellent counterpart as she tries to deal with his actions.
Wilson’s main motivation is trying to reconnect with the daughter he didn’t know he had. Humour is gained out of him meeting Claire, played with the proper ire by Isabella Amara. Clowes’s screenplay cleverly uses Claire to comment on the contrast between Wilson’s simple sensibilities and her foster parents’ rich lifestyle. Cheryl Hines digs into the role of Pippi’s pompous sister with relish and makes it easy for the audience to despise that character. Harrelson and Dern have the most impressive ability of taking already humourous lines on the page and making them ten times funnier on the screen with their deliveries.
The third act, featuring Wilson’s escapades in prison, don’t have the same consistency of laughs as the first two portions of the film. It feels like there are multiple endings with quite a few places Johnson could have culminated the story. An extended scene with Margo Martindale in a small role also lands with a thud. Aside from providing needed information to advance the plot, it proves unnecessary with the main gag never working. There are also not quite enough scenes with Wilson, Pippi and Claire being together. These twenty minute story lines do create the feeling of watching multiple episodes of a sitcom stitched together.
Wilson succeeds purely from a comedic stand point and from the strength of its actors. One wonders if Wilson would have been as funny without Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern playing the leads. Craig Johnson is an able director and while it’s easy to compare the basic approach applied here to Terry Zwigoff’s more visually heightened directorial style in Ghost World, he does the necessary job of bringing Clowes’s unique sensibilities to film. For a film trying to both a mainstream laugher and a more cynical indie movie, it does the job suitably enough. With works like this, all it takes is the right amount of belly laughs to create a successful experience.