After showcasing his worth as a filmmaker to keep an eye on with 2014’s The Skeleton Twins, Craig Johnson sadly suffers a sophomore slump with Wilson, an episodic dramedy that proves to be too far removed from Johnson’s directorial capabilities.
It’s not that he is unable to guide dark material to fruition – something he proved with the aforementioned Skeleton Twins – but the benefit there was that he wrote the tragic comedy on hand, whereas here he is essentially a hired-hand working off the peculiar mindset of Daniel Clowes, the graphic artist behind Wilson who isn’t easily emulated.
Due to its episodic nature, Wilson never feels like a fully realised film and more just an above-averagely cast vignette that’s only common thread is that of the titular Wilson (Woody Harrelson), a supremely annoying fellow whose struggle to connect with others grows more tiresome as the film runs on. Harrelson certainly isn’t to blame though as he’s well cast in the role, and he tries as hard as he can to make the character as likeable as possible but there’s only so much self-absorption one can take before his quirks become insufferable.
After an unengaging opening where Wilson suffers the loss of his father and faces the possibility of dying alone, the film finds a slight spark in the introduction of Pippi (Laura Dern), Wilson’s estranged ex-wife, who can’t help but still feel drawn to his pathetic nature. Dern is perhaps overplaying the hysteria of her character too much for such a small film, but Wilson is certainly a more watchable product when she’s involved. Similarly, it’s the film’s main plot point involving Wilson and Pippi tracking down the daughter (Isabella Amara) they put up for adoption at birth that proves the most effective.
Possibly threatening to be a movie with something valuable to say, this story strand is then abruptly thrown by the wayside for a segment involving Wilson’s sentence in prison before an unconvincing romance blossoms between him and Shelly (the always enjoyable Judy Greer), an animal lover who looks after his dog.
For a film where almost too much is going on, it’s ironic at how little there is to take away from a feature that lacks both pattern and personality. Perhaps someone like Terry Zwigoff, who successfully transformed Clowes’ Ghost World into a film, or Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways, About Schmidt) could have moulded the source material into something more effective, but thinking what could have been instead of what actually is clearly highlights Wilson‘s lack of memorableness.
Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Wilson is in select cinemas now.