Even bad-boy Woody can't make Wilson a comedy.
Director: Craig Johnson (Skeleton Twins)
Screenplay: Daniel Clowes (Art School Confidential) from his graphic novel
Cast: Woody Harrelson (The Edge of Seventeen), Laura Dern
Runtime: 1hr 34 min
by John DeSando
When titular anti-hero Wilson (Woody Harrelson) says suburbia is a “living death,” he could also be talking about himself as a curmudgeon dissing everyone he sees while crying for the family life he’s never had. That extreme tonal shift characterizes his bifurcated personality and the film itself.
In other words, this film is so deaf that it is almost impossible to see it as the comedy the producers would like us to experience. Although Harrelson brings his patented innocent bad-boy persona, he can’t save the result from mediocre dialogue and inscrutable characterization.
As it all begins, Wilson’s voiceover is larded with misanthropy spread over the landscape from a sweet dog lover (Sandy Olan) to any young person he meets, except his long lost daughter, Claire (Isabella Amara). The latter supposedly transforms his life after he seeks her out.
Fawning over his indifferent daughter emphasizes his lack of insight, despite his constant chatter about his disappointment with modern life, frequently spot on, if not unkind. His attempt to reunite with his estimable former wife, Pippi (Laura Dern), shows the other side of solid insight. By the end of the film, I felt I was battered from one side of the ring to the other with no real winner and a definite loser in Wilson.
Jack Nicholson did a remarkable job as a reforming curmudgeon in About Schmidt, as did a score of fine actors playing Scrooge. The film Wilson just doesn’t fit because it lacks character focus. That Woody brings the requisite jaded innocence is a given; that the screenplay gives him nothing to hang the character on is a flaw in an otherwise interesting concept about the middle-aged pessimist turned optimist.
Because this film is adapted by the graphic novelist, Daniel Clowes, who created the protagonist, it’s fair to say Clowes caught the cartoon-like irony of the comic book but lost the sense of character consistency so much a hallmark of a mature novel set to film. If you want bleak and dark with a light touch, the work of Todd Solondz would fit your needs. Clowes not so much.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com