Woody Harrelson stars as the title character, a curmudgeonly loner in a dark comedy based on a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes of Ghost World fame. If the terms graphic novel and comedy, used in the same sentence, baffle you, you are not alone. But surprisingly this adaptation works as such and elicited lots of laughter during the premiere screening at the Eccles Theater in Park City on Sunday afternoon.
Wilson is a horn-rimmed-glass nerd whose life is passing him by. He has no self-pity, and he does not complain. Quite the contrary: this is a man who calls a spade a spade no matter how much this offends people around him. He speaks in his beloved dog’s voice and says things like “Why the hell do people move to the suburbs? It’s like a living death".
After his father passes he decides that things have to change, and he starts looking for his ex-wife Pippi whose straight-laced, conservative and boring cliche of a sister (played by Cheryl Hines) misleads him by claiming that Pippi is a crack whore working on some street corner. Pippi, played with great aplomb by the wonderful Laura Dern, may have fallen on hard times, but Wilson finds her waiting tables in a nice restaurant, not on the wild side. After rekindling their old romance, she confesses that the baby he thinks she aborted was actually born and then given up for adoption. Wilson hunts down the shady agency owner and begins stalking his now teenage daughter Claire (Isabella Amara, dragging Pippi along. She lives with her wealthy adopted parents who could not care less what she does all day long. The fact that she is bullied for being overweight escapes them completely, but her passionate birthfather goes after the bullies in a mall. After a series of dramatic twists and turns, the film finds its way back to a heart warming ending.
Harrelson and Dern lead a cast of brilliant actors including appearances by Margo Martindale and Judy Greer who plays the dogsitter Wilson dumps his mutt Pepper with, and ends up being his girlfriend. The film is directed by Craig Johnson who premiered both his previous films True Adolescents (2009) and The Skeleton Twins (2014) at the festival.
Sundance Review: Wilson, feature. Directed by Craig Johnson. Written by Daniel Clowes from his graphic novel. Produced by Jared Goldman and Mary Jane Skalski. With Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Margo Martindale, Cheryl Hines. Judy Greer.