Craig Johnson’s Film, Wilson (based on the Daniel Clowes graphic Novel), is an interesting examination of the dichotomy between love and loneliness.
Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is a neurotic curmudgeon who seems to confuse the definitions of the word “friendly” and “ass.” He spends 98% of his day in solitude and the other 2% bonding with his dog pepper. Wilson attempts to make friends with total strangers, but is so unbelievably off-putting, that all of them scamper away. Early on in the film, Wilson receives terrible news that his Father’s health has taken a bad turn. He has to leave his one true friend, Pepper with a dog watcher (played by Judy Greer) and head out to be by his dad’s side but it’s too late. This sends Wilson into a tale-spin causing him to questioning who he has left in this world and if he could ever be happy. He tries to reach out to an old childhood friend for comfort during his time of grief only to discover that he’s more miserable than he is (if that was even possible). Wilson tries hitting on a lady in the pet store by ramming the back of her car, and the result of that can only be described as an epic fail.
Longing for something profound, he tracks down his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern) a recovering drug addict in hopes of either rekindling a romance or at least having some companionship in his life. Sparks being to happen and in the middle of an intimate moment, Wilson learns that the baby that Pippi told him had been aborted actually had been placed up for adoption in their hometown, by her. Expecting Wilson to lose his mind, he surprises her by being overjoyed at the idea that he has a daughter living so close by. Wilson immediately seeks to track her down. Could this finally be the one thing that makes Wilson a happy man?
Casting both Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern in the roles of Wilson and Pippi were both excellent choices. Harrelson not only has the acting chops to pull of Wilson’s curmudgeonly demeanor, but can pivot on a dime and be heartfelt on screen. Who wouldn’t be at least a little choked up watching Wilson on his knees begging to be part of his daughter’s life? Dern slipped into the role of Pippi perfectly conveying a mixture of ambivalence and the feeling that her life at 45 is adrift (regardless if she’s a mother).
Cinematographer Fredrick Elmes was extremely effective in capturing the ever-changing landscape of America. I love that in Wilson’s neighborhood, it started off with these mom and pop stores and progressed over a 17 year period, his home now is considered “hip” and is surrounded with every “retro store” imaginable and coffee bar as well.
Clowes crafts a script which tackles the dichotomy of love and loneliness managing to show that there isn’t much separating the two. When Wilson is in his apartment, with his things and pepper, he appears to love his life. The death of his dad changes all of this. He quickly realizes that even though he has his apartment and his dog, life is much more than possessions.
Without ruining the film, I’ll just say that Cheryl Hines plays Pippi’s sister Polly and is fantastic. Her part isn’t huge, but she certainly is impactful
What Didn’t Work
At times, the film appeared to lose its way when the focus was placed on the minutiae surrounding Wilson’s life. Yeah, it was kind of weird that he does a high pitch doggy voice for every dog he runs into but was it necessary to the narrative?
Wilson is the type of film that’s going to have a hard time finding it’s audience. With Wilson facing stiff competition this weekend (Beauty and the Beast, Logan, and Kong: Skull Island), it is easy to see a scenario where this film could be lost in the shuffle. However, just because Wilson was released during an oddly busy month, doesn’t deter from the quality of the movie. This film tackles interesting questions about what truly makes us feel loved or in the case of Harrelson’s character “whole.” Is it finding love in a failed relationship? Is it seeking out the affection of a person who doesn’t even know you exist? The best part of the film is that it didn’t aim to provide any answers for the audience and allowed us to make our own judgments. Nothing wrong with a movie that makes you think.