Woody Harrelson in Wilson (Photo: Fox Searchlight)
** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Craig Johnson
STARS Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern
The title character in the seriocomedy Wilson comes from the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, but, truth be told, he might as well have come from the Dennis the Menace comic strip created by Hank Ketcham. Like Mr. Wilson, Dennis’s next-door neighbor, this Wilson is positioned as a grouchy guy but ultimately revealed to be a sweetheart. It’s a bait-and-switch tactic that was more believable in the Sunday funnies than in this lackluster new film.
Wilson starts out by painting its protagonist (played by Woody Harrelson) as a raging misanthrope, albeit one who has convinced himself that he actually likes people. But the thaw begins almost immediately, with Wilson soon emerging as nothing more than a socially maladjusted guy with an ex-wife (Laura Dern), a cute dog, and a desire to have a family. Sentiment quickly takes the place of cynicism, and, despite the occasional flash of brutal wit, the film settles into a well-worn groove of indie preciousness.
Harrelson, who over the last decade has built himself up into one of our best supporting players (The Edge of Seventeen, The Messenger, The Hunger Games franchise, etc.), is just fine as Wilson. There’s no doubt the actor would have taken the character to greater extremes, but that’s not what’s asked of him. Instead, he’s forced to play a man who, quite frankly, isn’t particularly interesting – certainly not as a leading character in a motion picture – and the overriding feeling is that the filmmakers should have just made a movie about Tom Hanks’ Cast Away volleyball. At least that Wilson exhibited a bit more bounce.