Wilson review: Woody Harrelson appears as a neurotic loner in modern-day Minnesota in this adaptation of the Daniel Cloves graphic novel.
Wilson review at the 2017 Sundance London Film Festival.
Craig Johnson directs this low budget indie that saw a release Stateside earlier this year via Fox Searchlight. The studio introduces the film, which stars Woody Harrelson as the lonely though outgoing title character, to UK audiences via Sundance’s London thread.
We’re introduced to Wilson in his dated apartment which sits above a Chinese restaurant in present day Minnesota. Wilson lives alone with just his pet dog and still secretly pines for his estranged wife Pippi (Laura Dern), from who he separated from 17 years earlier. It takes the loss of his father to cancer for the neurotic, anxious individual to bring it upon himself to find out what happened to Pippi after she ‘moved to Los Angeles,’ supposedly to search for the Hollywood dream. He eventually tracks her down to a local restaurant where she is trying to get back on her feet after a string of failed relationships. Following an initial brief encounter, which climaxes in the bedroom, Wilson discovers that he has a long-lost daughter who was given up for adoption shortly after he and Pippi parted company – guess what, she too is living in the same town! What follows is a narrative following the couple’s journey to reconnect with their daughter, Wilson with a new-found lease and lust for life.
After a successful debut at Sundance back in January of this year, Wilson debuted in selected cinemas Stateside in March, taking in around $600,000 in receipts from its much larger $5 million budget. It’s under-performance across the pond seems a little undeserved as there’s certainly a lot to like in this adaption of Daniel Cloves’ 2010 graphic novel of the same name.
Arguably the best thing about the film are the performances, the best of which comes from Woody Harrleson, the actor’s turn very reminiscent of the comedic roles he churned out in the late 1980s and 1990s – read Cheers, White Men Can’t Jump and yes, Money Train. While Wilson is obviously a much different film, and indeed a very different character to those that Harrleson played in those movies, he really does attract most of the laughs as the confrontational misanthrope at the heart of the story. He is supported by a wonderful Laura Dern, very much playing against type as the tattooed restaurant server and Wilson’s lost spouse, as well as solid shows from the likes of Judy Greer – who appears as Wilson’s dog-sitter and neighbour Shelly, and Cheryl Hines as Polly, Pippi’s do-right sister who seems to have made it in life with a massive house in suburbia, complete with huge back yard and kids bound for college.
While the characters are well-written, one can’t quite feel that the story lacks the same development. The tone shifts constantly, especially during a forced middle section where Wilson is incarcerated for a crime you can see coming a mile off, and then a relationship that occurs during the final reel.
Despite its predictability and the fact that the film feels massively longer than its relatively tight 101 minutes – it crams a lot in – Harrelson is so damn watchable that his involvement is enough to carry the film and warrant a viewing on its own. He’s tons of fun, but when that becomes expected from a screen stalwart with masses of screen presence, I had hoped that more could have come along with it.
Wilson review by Paul Heath, June 2017.
Wilson is released in the UK on 9th June 2017. It screens at Sundance London on June 2nd 2017.