Chloe Walker from the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford reviews this week’s Discover Tuesdays’ title, Wilson.
On the face of it, Wilson (Woody Harrelson), is your classic misanthropist. He proclaims how much he hates his fellow members of the human race loudly and often.
You don’t have to look far to see that, more than anything, Wilson is lonely. His father has recently died, and his best (only) friend, has moved to the other side of the country. He interrupts strangers who are on the phone, asleep, or clearly working, in order to have one-sided conversations. He hates people, but he needs them.
And so when he reunites with his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern) after seventeen years, he is uncharacteristically thrilled. When they broke up all that time ago, Pippi was pregnant, and Wilson had always believed that she’d had an abortion. Instead, he is excited to learn that she had the baby – a girl – which she then gave up for adoption. It’s not long before they find her, and Claire (Isabella Amara), is very much her parents’ daughter. The unconventional family get off to a good start, before, inevitably, the relationships soon become even more complicated.
There’re not many actors who could get you to root for a character as unlikable as Wilson, but Woody Harrelson is very much up for the challenge. Working from a script by Daniel Clowes (adapting his own iconic graphic novel), Harrelson delivers even Wilson’s most acerbic lines with a palpable glee.
The best section of Wilson is the cohesion of the bizarre little unit. And despite the odd circumstances, Wilson, Pippi and Claire make a convincing family. Director Craig Johnson (whose previous film The Skeleton Twins also dealt with decidedly prickly characters), handles this shift from bitter to sweet confidently.
The Wilson graphic novel doesn’t have an overarching storyline, it just puts Wilson into varying scenarios and lets you watch how he reacts to them. Though Clowes’s screenplay has more of a throughline, these vignettes are still included, and they feature entertaining cameos from indie mainstays like Margo Martindale, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Cheryl Hines.
It’s easy to get behind your typical likeable Hollywood hero; however the skill in Wilson is making you empathise with someone who in real life you’d cross the street to avoid. It’s no mean feat but, between them, Craig Johnson, Daniel Clowes and Woody Harrelson, pull it off.
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