Director: Craig Johnson
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Isabella Amara, Judy Greer, Cheryl Hines, Margo Martindale, Brett Gelman, Mary Lynn Rajskub
MPAA Rating: (for language throughout and some sexuality)
Running Time: 1:34
Release Date: 3/24/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | March 23, 2017
Is it possible for a performance to be so perfectly in tune with an intentionally unlikeable character that it gives us additional reasons to hate that character? The argument can be made of Woody Harrelson's performance as the eponymous Wilson, a man who insists that he genuinely likes other people but seems to go out of his way to ensure that other people can't stand him.
When another person doesn't want to talk to him or even to give him a second look, Wilson assumes that it's the other guy or gal's problem, not his. He blames modern technology for people staring at screens in order to avoid human interaction and bad parenting for generations being raised without social skills.
Wilson doesn't give a second thought to the idea that, maybe, the guy in a public restroom doesn't appreciate a complete stranger standing at the urinal next to him when all of the other urinals are available. He doesn't give a first thought to the notion that any conversation that may result from such an encounter is going to be even more uncomfortable. Who knows where he gets the thought to end the conversation by complimenting the man's genitalia.
Wilson is meant to make us feel uncomfortable with and about its title character. He's not a bad guy. He's simply too eager, too unaware of basic social cues, too set in his own attitude, too dismissive of courtesy, and too oblivious to what other people are thinking and feeling. He grates in a way that is, at least, unique—and uniquely irritating.
This is a man who decides that he needs to start dating again, so after having a 15-second interaction with a woman at a pet store, he decides that the best way to get her phone number is to intentionally hit her car with his own in the parking lot. When the woman refuses to exchange information for "insurance purposes," Wilson gets mad at her. He's a special kind of annoying.
The movie, written by Daniel Cloves (adapting his graphic novel) and directed by Craig Johnson, is strangely uncertain about the character. It knows he is—to say the least—flawed, and Cloves clearly is aware of Wilson's contradictory nature—between what the character says and how he behaves. The man is, as they say, who he is. The movie never attempts to analyze him as a way of making excuses, save for a deathbed scene with Wilson's emotionally distant father, which only explains part of his problem. It knows that some people are just a collection of bad habits and unfortunate personality quirks.
It knows this, but the movie is also a comedy, in which Wilson's flaws are presented in a fairly favorable light. Cloves and Johnson don't want to judge the man, which is fine, but they also seem intent on turning him into some sort of folk hero—the guy who doesn't care what other people think of his behavior. The problem is that it's not that Wilson doesn't care. He simply doesn't know.
The story centers on Wilson's attempts to rekindle a romance with his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern, making us wish the movie was about her character), before discovering that she gave birth to their baby and gave it up for adoption. Wilson suddenly sees a ready-made family just within reach, and he leaps at the opportunity.
The kid is the teenaged Claire (Isabella Amara), whose adoptive parents are rich but mostly absent from her life. Wilson drags Pippi along to stalk the teen and, pretty quickly, makes contact with the girl in a very public, very embarrassing way.
The humor depends on how much we identify with Wilson. Harrelson, as suggested before, might be too good in the role. We can see the wheels turning to an uncomfortable degree as Wilson plots his courses of getting involved in the lives of people who want little to nothing to do with him, insults people when trying to compliment them, and becomes infuriated whenever he doesn't get what he wants from others. Harrelson constantly reveals the man whom Wilson really is, and it's not a complimentary picture.
The movie, though, doesn't reflect that. The tone is more attuned to a protagonist who's a bumbling buffoon, not a man who knows what he's doing but can't or won't recognize that it's wrong. Wilson eventually does try to redeem its "hero," but by then, we know much better about the guy than the movie apparently does.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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