James Cole Clay // Film Critic
The titular character in the indie comedy, WILSON, is labeled in the film’s marketing as a sour grump whose misanthropic ways have led him to a life of solitude. These kind of stories always find their ways into independent filmmaking: Guy loses his lust for life, finds out he has an estranged family member and then wants to rectify the situation. However, with the talent of Woody Harrelson, what could go wrong?
Director Craig Johnson (THE SKELETON TWINS) and screenwriter Daniel Clowes (GHOST WORLD) get so caught up in the quirks of their lead character that they forget to build the film around the central character. Harrelson gives a committed performance that’s just begging for laughs, and, at times, he achieves them, but at the cost of the plot going forward.
Wilson is a guy who lives in an apartment atop of a small business that is cluttered with old books, records and the memories of a man who never amounted to anything. We don’t know much about this guy, except for the fact he likes to strike up conversations with strangers on the bus, the playground and pretty much anywhere people go to try to be alone in public — including urinals (as you can see in the above poster). His middle-aged looks and horn-rimmed glasses put a target on his back for being weird, creepy and unwelcoming, but all Wilson wants to do is connect with humans in a world that’s obsessed with moving fast and glued to our phones. Frankly, Wilson just can’t win this race.
For most of the first act, Clowes and Johnson set up this character through strange moments and odd encounters that genuinely had my audience cringing with laughter. But, WILSON doesn’t say anything about what it’s really like to be in the head of such an oddball. Sure, we take the time to laugh at his pain, but there’s no empathy.
Luckily, Wilson ends up being paired with his ex-wife Pippi (the ever-endearing Laura Dern) as they go on a search for their long lost daughter who was adopted 17 years prior. These two actors could act their way out of most movies, and, for certain scenes, Wilson has a panache that’s sparks with left-of-center humor, but not even their talents could save the plot from going under.
WILSON is the type of indie film that feels like it was produced in a lab, and that’s why its such a trifling film. Director Johnson made an exceptional, unconventional film with THE SKELETON TWINS, but his follow up is nothing more than manipulating the confines of the indie comedy.
WILSON opens in limited release on Friday, Mar. 24.