The curmudgeon searching for connection, love and the meaning of life is a common theme in movies. There is a formula to follow however…good writing and a compelling story are still required to make it great. Fox Searchlight’s comedy, Wilson (based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes) just misses the mark.
Lets look at the formula:
Step 1: Introduce Curmudgeon, an anti-social middle-aged man with plenty of conspiracy theories and crumbling attitude.
Titular character Wilson (Woody Harrelson) checks off all 3. His loves in this life are his books, his routines and his dog. Wilson has has no sense of boundaries, and will attempt to spark a conversation with anyone…whether the person wants to talk to him or not.
Step 2: Insert life altering event. Something earth-shattering enough to make the character re-examine his place in the world.
Wilson’s father, his only living relative, passes away. Wilson begins to assess his life and questioning who will share his memories, and thus beginning a search for his ex-wife, Pippi (Laura Dern) who he hasn’t seen in 17 years. While attempting to rekindle their relationship, Pippi tells Wilson they have a teenage daughter who she put up for adoption. Wilson’s search for connection and meaning then turns towards the daughter, Claire (Isabella Amara).
The film’s director, Craig Johnson, made some excellent choices when it came to set design and the disheveled houses and restaurants where Wilson and Pippi live and work convey the depression felt by both characters. This becomes noticeable when contrasted with the house of Claire’s adoptive parents and Pippi’s sister.
A few of the scenes, with proper writing, could have been a movie by themselves, the love story between Wilson and Shelly (Judy Greer) could have been interesting. Harrelson and Greer played well off each other. The brightest spot in this movie is the casting of Claire. In the graphic novel, Claire is a full-figured girl with a goth-like appearance. While it would have easy to cast a waifish actress to give the movie more mass appeal, the producers chose an actress that resembles Claire as drawn, and Isabella Amara played the role to perfection.
This movie is billed as a comedy but I did not laugh once. Daniel Clowes, who wrote the original graphic novel, did not do a good job of translating it to a screenplay. I think someone who specializes in script would have done a better job adapting the material. Like a graphic novel, the movie seems to be a series of shorts; however they never seem to connect in the film. For example, there are scenes and conversations which seem unrelated to the overall story, like the conversation between Wilson and a paranoid childhood friend. These scenes don’t push the story along, but instead just add more time to a movie that’s already almost an hour and 45 minutes. I felt every minute of that run time.
The actors in the film – whom I normally love – couldn’t save this. Like Wilson himself, this movie had a lot of potential which was just unrealized.
1.5 snarls out of 5