Contrary to popular belief, Wilson is not the biopic about Tom Hanks’ volleyball, though that might have been more interesting than Craig Johnson’s indie drama. Wilson is adapted from Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel of the same name (who also wrote the script). It follows Woody Harrelson as the titular character, a crusty misanthrope who is a professional at making strangers uncomfortable. He constantly berates people for being addicted to social media and wishes they could have a conversation like in the good ole’ times.
After his only friend moves away and his father dies from cancer, Wilson tries to sort through his personal affairs to find someone to confide in. He wishes to find his ex-wife, Pippi (Laura Dern), who he believes aborted their child and became a prostitute. When he finds her working at a restaurant, he sees that she’s looking great and trying to get her life back to together. After falling back in bed with each other, Pippi admits that she never aborted their baby and gave her up for adoption instead. Seeing his chance to finally become a dad, Wilson sets out to find their teenage daughter and see if their family would have worked out.
Johnson’s criminally underrated, The Skeleton Twins, successfully gave us a glimpse into the dark side of human nature. His protagonists were bad people, but their breaking moments helped them become better people. That’s not the case in Wilson. Harrelson’s character is consistently unlikable until the credits roll. There are some touching moments to his character, but his gross antics undermines them. Even during his “redemption arc,” he’s not fully redeemed. He just learns how to be a little less of an asshole (but not much).
The story is just as uneven as the lead character. At first, it starts out as a bizarre character study but quickly turns into a sentimental fluff piece. The voyage after Wilson’s daughter is set up to be the main plot but is quickly diminished back into another character study. We don’t have enough time (or reason) to like any of the characters present. Harrelson is the shining star and does what he can with the material he’s given. Dern’s character is incredibly one dimensional and is only there to drive Wilson towards his goal. Her plots are barely touched. The only thing I felt sorry for was Wilson’s dog, Pepper, because she has to spend time with these horrible people.
And let’s just take a moment to talk about the dialogue here. Normally, I’m game for snarky, smart dialogue, but Clowes’ script was unbearably pretentious. Wilson’s lines were mainly about how the world was a scam, and social media was to blame. People are fake, and he’s too good for anyone. The dialogue was essentially a mixture of baby boomer and angry white male mentality (minus the fedora). While there were some good bits here and there, I was too distracted by the pseudo-intellectualism.
If it was a different director, Wilson might have been interesting. Bubbly indie tropes suffocated the dark comedy. Johnson spent too much time on the sentimentality and forgot to focus on the main character. Though with the way that he was written, I doubt there was very much Johnson could have done.