Film Review – Wilson
I’ve seen Ghost World roughly a dozen times and Art School Confidential exactly once. That’s not meant as condemnation against the latter, necessarily, although I think it says something that I’ve not ever had the inclination to re-investigate.
Post-underground graphic novelist Daniel Clowes‘ third film adaptation, Wilson, falls squarely in the middle for me. An amiable, crass coming-of-middle-age comedy directed by Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins). Based on Clowes’ 2010 illustrated book (that I have not read), Wilson is essentially a series of comic vignettes starring Woody Harrelson as the titular crankpot.
Living in the same dingy apartment for 19 years, Wilson is a man with no mission. (Or job as far as this reviewer could tell.) His only friend is moving away and his last surviving parent suddenly dies of terminal cancer. With the aide of his beloved dog, Pepper, Wilson spends most of his days mildly harassing strangers with his abrasiveness and unhinged opinions. Harrelson seems to be having great fun with the role, and you often find yourself invested in his various plights, despite his outrageousness.
Loneliness sends Wilson on a quest to reconnect with long lost love, Pippi (Laura Dern). We quickly gather the two once had quite the tumultuous relationship, as they pleasantly reminisce of the 29 stitches Wilson needed in his head after a long ago drunken spat. Pippi, a former stripper (and alluded to prostitute) is finally attempting to live her life on the straight and narrow. Too bad, then, Wilson has other plans.
Once Pippi reveals she’d secretly given birth to their child and put her up for adoption, Wilson is elated. He desperately wants a family, regardless of their mutual irresponsibility. He soon drags her on a predictable mission of mishaps in order to befriend his now-teenage daughter, Claire (Isabella Amara).
Amara is new to me but brings a jaded vulnerability to Claire, a goth-tinged girl mercilessly bullied for her weight. The three make for an obnoxious trio, which seems about right given her bloodline, I guess. You might wonder how her adoptive parents feel about the arrangement. Let’s say not well and, with the outside help of Pippi’s vindictive and successful sister (played, briefly, by Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Cheryl Hines), Wilson earns himself a prison stint, leading to the hardest left I’ve maybe ever seen in an otherwise shambly adult comedy. Lending to his wirey affability, of course, Wilson adapts almost instantly.
Craig Johnson is a capable director, but certain character motivations remain fuzzy even at the end of its slight 94 minutes. Furthermore, there are two jokes in particular that landed with a thud so loud I thought I was seeing it in IMAX. A steady rotation of gifted comic actors keep things from getting too stale, although are too often left with not much to do. When your cast includes the likes of Judy Greer, Brett Gelman and Mary Lynn Rajskub, you might want to throw them a laugh line or some space to improv.
I’m always interested when I hear word of a Clowes adaptation and am always disappointed when it just misses the mark. Here’s to hoping Terry Zwigoff is available next time around.