Directed by Craig Johnson
Starring Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Isabella Amara and Cheryl Hinds.
It’s not easy to like Wilson (Woody Harrelson). A lonely misanthrope who just wants to be loved and to connect with those around him, he gets it wrong every time. He says the first thing that comes into his head, no matter how tactless or inappropriate. But when his father dies, it’s a watershed moment. Wilson is now completely on his own so he decides to track down his ex-wife – only to discover they had a daughter he never knew about and who was adopted. It’s the chance he’s been looking for.
Wilson arrives off the back of screenings at Sundance London last week and after some decidedly lukewarm reviews Stateside. But is it the film that’s the problem or the character? Let’s start with the man himself.
Despite his loneliness and complete lack of tact, he’s also remarkably insensitive to the needs of others, especially when it comes to personal space. It’s not that he doesn’t respect it, he completely ignores it, a real social faux pas given our preoccupation with laptops and mobile phones, so he’s immediately at odds with just about everybody. Yet, although you probably wouldn’t want to sit next to him on the bus, there are times when you think there just might be a grain of truth in what he says.
What makes him funny is that he actually comes out with things we’ve probably all thought at some point, but never dared say because it would offend and generally make matters worse. But he comes right out and says them. For everybody to hear. Pity the woman in the street who makes a huge fuss of his dog, talking to it as if it were a baby. Wilson responds in a high pitched, childish voice, pretending to be the dog. The woman’s not impressed.
So it’s no surprise that his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern) isn’t exactly filled with joy to see him again, especially after a gap of 17 years. But when he discovers she had a daughter he never knew about and who was adopted, the balance of their relationship changes. For Wilson, this is the chance he’s been looking for: to be a father in his own right and build a relationship with his child. Guess what? It doesn’t go quite according to plan.
The film doesn’t fall down on the acting front, with Harrelson giving us a timely reminder of his comedy credentials in generating the laughs but also giving a deeper character study. You’re happy watching him on the screen, laughing at him but would you want him to come and sit next to you on the bus, especially when there’s row upon row of empty seats? Probably not. Laura Dern plays wonderfully against type as his ex, a tattooed waitress who looks a little rough around the edges and isn’t averse to bashing him over the head with her handbag.
The film’s real problem shows itself just over half way through, when Wilson ends up in prison. At that – very predictable – moment, it all starts to go downhill: the storyline becomes all too obvious and the change in tone is short on credibility. It doesn’t get any better after his release, as he embarks on a relationship that is way too rose tinted. It’s as if two films have been sandwiched together to make one – one where the glue isn’t doesn’t its job.
That said, Harrelson fans won’t be disappointed. It shows off his comic talents to the full and he has a blast in the role. But the film just doesn’t live up to him.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★