Cringe-worthy comedy has never been my favorite. I was not a "Seinfeld" fan, nor a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" enthusiast. "Wilson" is very much of this genre. I believe I crawled under my seat innumerous times, but I also laughed out loud on occasion.
Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is a middle-aged, lonely, unfiltered curmudgeon. His one redeeming quality is his love for his dog, Pepper. Even his best friend moves his family to St. Louis, Missouri to get away from him.
Poor Wilson was married once --- 17 years earlier --- to a troubled woman named Pippi (Laura Dern). He doesn't own a computer or smart phone and refuses to engage in any social media. But during an ice cream "date" with Alta (Margo Martindale --- a true fav of mine), a woman he meets in a parking lot, she manages to track down Pippi's sister, Polly (Cheryl Hines) on line. Polly informs Wilson that Pippi, a recovering drug addict and prostitute, is trying to pull her life together again, working at a local restaurant.
Wilson and Pippi's over-the-top reunion reveals a secret that sends the two of them on a search for their daughter whom Pippi put up for adoption. A private detective finds Claire (Isabella Amara), whom Wilson and Pippi follow to a mall, and watch while she is bullied by a few classmates. Wilson springs into action to defend Claire, and
voila --- she learns the identity of her birth parents.
Based on the graphic novel of the same title by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Daniel Clowes, who wrote this screenplay, and directed by Craig Johnson, who helmed the very funny movie "The Skeleton Twins", "Wilson" is an amalgamation of very different characters who don't particularly mesh well. Nor does the character development coincide with the eventual outcomes of Clowes' outrageous plot lines.
One of the more outlandish episodes involves a road trip with Wilson, Pippi and Claire to visit Polly and her family, causing Wilson to leave Pepper with his ever-faithful dog sitter, Shelly (Judy Greer). Pippi and Polly are total opposites and have been --- shall we say --- estranged.
Their arrival at Polly's suburban home followed by Wilson's barrage of unwelcome dinner conversation do nothing to repair the already strained relationship. The end result is a ludicrous cat fight between Pippi and Polly, along with a 40-month prison term for Wilson on a charge of kidnapping. Claire lied to her adoptive parents regarding her whereabouts, and both she and Pippi sell Wilson down the river.
Harrelson seems to be reprising his role as Woody, the dim-witted bartender on "Cheers". But, as Wilson, he possesses very little in the way of redeeming qualities. It's difficult to grasp whatever appeal he manages to ensnare Pippi, and then Shelly. He is totally unlikable, not because of his unfiltered dialogue, but due to Harrelson's inability to convince us that he believes in this character.
Greer is an awesome artist, so believable in all of her work. She petitioned heavily for this role and she is perfect as Shelly. Unfortunately, Clowes' script is woefully uneven, affecting Greer's performance the most. But when she tilts her head and gives that charming side grin --- it's priceless.
"Wilson" contains a few noteworthy moments, particularly Martindale's character's brief encounter with Wilson. She's divine and makes any scene come alive. Another hilarious scene has Wilson visiting a former classmate, a real wacko. It only takes a few minutes for Wilson to remember why he never liked this guy in high school.
These vignettes are simply not enough to save "Wilson". David was bored out of his mind. I didn't find it quite that bad, just stupid --- which may be the bigger objection.
Opinion: Wait for DVD
The promotional poster for "Wilson" says it all. It shows Woody Harrelson's character, Wilson, standing at a urinal next to a total stranger. Never mind that the men's restroom has a row of empty urinals. Wilson chooses to stand directly next to this guy. In the real world, this would be considered a huge invasion of one's personal space.
He then strikes up a conversation with the man, including a question about his family. Incredibly, the man reciprocates the chatter. Wilson ends the brief talk with the comment, "nice c**k", about the man's appendage. I suppose this is meant to be funny or exemplify Wilson's "quirky" personality. For writer Daniel Clowes, this exchange must be hilarious. I can tell you it's just plain stupid.
Similar scenarios abound in this horrid film. Wilson selects a seat on an otherwise empty train next to another passenger. Same thing on a beach, as Wilson pulls up next to a man completely alone on an otherwise deserted stretch of sand. This is clever?
I really like Harrelson as an actor, but in "Wilson" his character reaches the heights of irritation. It also stretches our believability why reasonably attractive women, including his ex-wife, Pippi (Laura Dern) and friend, Shelly (Judy Greer), are drawn to him? Wilson is not a particularly endearing fellow, so his appeal to these women is fundamentally illogical.
Wilson says what's on his mind without regard for the consequences. Maybe he should run for President. When he lands in jail for kidnapping --- as a result of his newly-found daughter, Claire (Isabella Amara) testifying against him in court --- he spouts off to fellow inmates, provoking a ridiculous beating in the prison dining hall. If Wilson wasn't so appallingly annoying, he might be a sympathetic character. But he is, so he's not.
Director Craig Johnson has one success under his belt, "The Skeleton Twins" starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. He even won the screenplay award at Sundance for it. But "Wilson" is neither funny, nor poignant, nor worth your time.
Opinion: Don't Bother!