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Review: Wilson (Sundance) starring Woody Harrelson

Wilson (Sundance) starring Woody Harrelson
01.24.2017
5 10

PLOT: A misanthropic, middle-aged man (Woody Harrelson) re-connects with his ex-wife (Laura Dern) and discovers he has a long-lost daughter.

REVIEW: As exciting as it is to discover new voices at Sundance, there’s also a tradition of the sophomore stumble. Director Craig Johnson, whose THE SKELETON TWINS was one of my favorite movies two Sundances ago, wouldn’t be the first to make a shaky second feature. To me, this suffers from Johnson more-or-less being a hired hand. He co-wrote THE SKELETON TWINS, and it had the texture of something that was a labor of love. WILSON requires a different kind of skill-set, in that he has to tailor his style to Daniel Clowes, a very difficult nut to crack unless you’re Terry Zwigoff.

Basically a series of vignettes tied together by the titular Wilson’s struggle to connect with people (even though he mostly despises them). It’s quirky and well acted, with Harrelson well cast as the annoying, self-absorbed, but not unlikable title character. It’s just that for all Clowes’s talent, some things work better on the page, and WILSON never feels like a satisfying film, at least not the way a previous adaptation of his, GHOST WORLD, did.

Given the episodic nature, it feels a lot like several episodes of a sitcom strung together in a feature, right down to the too-cute by 50% score by Jon Brion. Some of the vignettes work better than others, but the first act is almost intolerable, as Wilson finds out his father is dead and fears dying alone. Once he reconnects with his ex, the movie improves, mainly due to Laura Dern. Clearly having fun as his trashy ex-flame, Dern gives a terrific comic performance, and when she’s present WILSON works.

As such, the middle section, where Harrelson and Dern try to connect with their given-up for adoption daughter (Isabella Amara) is the most effective part of the film, and the one time WILSON feels like it has something mild to say. Too bad the last act is a mess, with vignettes in prison, and an unconvincing side-plot with Judy Greer as an animal lover who watches over Wilson’s beloved dog.

Through it all, WILSON feels like a movie that never congeals into anything more than the sum of its parts. Harrelson is trying hard here, and while we’ve all known a few Wilson’s of our own, this doesn’t make it a movie worth watching. It’s a close to a straight-up comic performance as Harrelson’s ever given, but it lacks any kind of sincerity, which might have made the film more palatable.

Maybe it’s that an ace satirist, like maybe Alexander Payne, would have been needed to really make this work. Johnson is too genuine, and seems out of sorts in this material. THE SKELETON TWINS had a biting wit but it also had tremendous sincerity. By contrast, this is like the indie of equivalent of a standard studio comedy. It’s by-the-numbers, and it feels like anyone could have made it, missing any kind of directorial signature. While not disasterous, WILSON is run-of-the-mill and not worthy of Johnson’s talents.

Source: JoBlo.com

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