dir Craig Johnson
scr Daniel Clowes
prd Jared Goldman, Mary Jane Skalski
with Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Judy Greer, Isabella Amara, Cheryl Hines, Margo Martindale, David Warshofsky, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Bill McCallum, Brett Gelman, Peter Moore, Tom Proctor
release US 24.Mar.17, UK 9.Jun.17
17/US Fox 1h34
Family outing: Harrelson, Amara and Dern

greer hines martindale
sundance london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Wilson A jarringly offbeat tone keeps the audience on its toes for this scruffy comedy, which is essentially a celebration of a hyperactive, hopelessly optimistic curmudgeon. Based on screenwriter Daniel Clowes' graphic novel, there's nothing very realistic about this character, but the script is brittly funny, with hints of real insight under the goofy surface.

Wilson (Harrelson) annoys pretty much everyone he meets, either by over-sharing with strangers or complaining to what few friends he has left. When his father dies, he leaves his beloved dog Pepper with his friend Shelly (Greer) and embarks on a bit of soul-searching, tracking down his ex-wife Pippi (Dern). She's not exactly happy to see him after all these years. And when Wilson learns that she gave birth to his daughter and gave her up for adoption, he tracks down the now 17-year-old Claire (Amara) and barges into her life.

The film opens with an annoying voiceover monolog about the horrors of growing up and the irritations of modern life. Wilson is one of those insufferable people who quickly wears out his welcome with unsolicited advice, so spending an hour and a half with him is a bit of an endurance test. Thankfully, even though Wilson is such an over-the-top pest, there's a freshly anarchic tone to the film that cuts cleverly through what passes for civilised society.

Harrelson does what he can with this character, lending an element of consistency even though the script has him veering wildly from blindly happy to downright vicious. But Harrelson is so invested in the role that he almost makes him endearing. Dern is terrific as the long-suffering but understandably exasperated Pippi ("I can't even catch my breath around you," she sighs). Greer's role is far less defined. And most side characters appear only in brief scenes, but there's a fantastic line-up of scene-stealers to play them.

If there wasn't so much subtext, the film would be almost as unbearable as Wilson himself. His cheerfully obnoxious observations about everything are only mildly less annoying than his impulsively invasive actions. So it's a real problem when the plot gyrates drastically to try to make him sympathetic. The fact that Wilson has lost everything in his life isn't surprising, and it's fairly clear that he won't be able to keep things together. But the final act at least adds a meta-message that's pointed and resonant.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, violence 4.Jun.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall