WILSON

 

I am a huge fan of actor Woody Harrelson and am convinced that somewhere along the line, he will finally win an Oscar. He has been nominated twice ("The Messenger" and "The People vs. Larry Flint") and overlooked ("The Walker", "Zombieland", "Indecent Proposal") but consistently takes on difficult characters offering quality performances - even when the film sucks.

 

Director Craig Johnson ("The Skeleton Twins") cast Woody in the lead of "Wilson", a film based on an unlikely graphic novel by Daniel Clowes (Ghost World). The novel, as it were, is actually seventy one-page strips about a lonely, sarcastic divorcee who spends his day voicing his opinions to complete strangers. The strips were meant to be read individually while stringing together in a loose fitting story.

 

Perhaps the uniqueness of the novel is why the film just doesn't hit on all cylinders, but the format was not conceptualized smoothly leading to a story that jumps all over every place with the only true link being Harrelson.

Wilson is an aging loner who has an opinion about everything but no one to share his opinion with. He doesn't seem to have a local bar hangout or, like Jack Nicholson's Marc Udall character from "As Good as It Gets", a favorite diner hangout. He lives alone with his dog and consequently interacts occasionally with a dog-sitter neighbor.

 

When he goes out, he frequently sidles up to complete strangers and engages them in out-from-left-field discussions based on his life observances. But, in reality he is desperately seeking some sort of human connection.

 

This isn't going to well as he generally reveals his baser values. He isn't grumpy as much as he just doesn't know any better. According to the novel, the strips were set up pretty much like any other comic strip with these observations and brief discussions blocked out as individual episodes like Wiley Miller's Non sequitur.

Wilson suddenly decides the only time he felt like something was when he was with his wife who left him after she became pregnant. The story from her was that she got an abortion. At this point Wilson decides to reach out to his ex-wife's sister Polly (Cheryl Hines) to locate the ex.

 

Polly tells him that Pippi (played by Larua Dern) fell on hard times and was a drug addicted hooker on the seedy side of town. Concerned and suddenly energized Wilson sets out to find her which he succeeds in doing.

 

Much to his surprise, she isn't run down and scrawny like Polly described, but actually quite nice looking. Moreover, she reveals that she didn't abort the baby, but instead she put the girl up for adoption. Quick as a wink, he convinces Pippi to join him in the quest to locate and reunite with their long lost daughter.

 

This leads to their discovery of the overweight daughter Claire (Isabelle Amara) and an awkward reunion that seems to be working until everything goes wrong which leads to police and jail before a very predictable conclusion. Perhaps this makes more sense in book form, but it becomes a convoluted mess on film, propped up by Harrelson, Dern and Amara's performances.

 

The story probably should have been darker to take full advantage of Harrelson's oddball nature. The stage was set but the direction is to random to be satisfying.

 

"Wilson" works as a strange showcase of vignettes that are smooshed together into a disjointed road trip. It no-doubt works better as the graphic novel, though the key actors give it a good effort.   -- GEOFF BURTON

 

GEOFF BURTON

 

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