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Movie Review: #Wilson

The dark comedy Wilson whipsaws too much to keep our interest.

Review by Matt Cummings

In Director Craig Johnson's Wilson, an aged and prickly man (Woody Harrelson) rails on society with his acerbic personality, committing faux paws nearly every second in which he makes contact with other people. No urinal will keep Wilson from striking up an unwanted conversation while checking out your package, no moment of potential maturity is gained. The result of his odd behavior: he's been divorced for nearly two decades, and his friend list is quickly dwindling. Even his dog sitter (Judy Greer) has a hard time understanding the wrinkled and disheveled Wilson, when a chance encounter reminds him of his ex-wife Pippi (a sufficiently trashy Laura Dern). She too has fallen on hard times, and the two rekindle their relationship, only to reveal that Pippi had a daughter whom she gave up for adoption. As Pippi and Wilson attempt to make contact with her, they will find it nearly impossible to stay away from the portly spawn, leading to harsh consequences for Wilson.

For the first two acts of Wilson, this thing looks and feels like an underground masterpiece. The comedy is tip-top here, bolstered by Harrelson's gravely and weathered voice, which reveals some terrific "He didn't just say that!" lines directed at people unaware of the pain he's about to bring. Adding Dern to the mix only makes things better, as the two creep on their overweight daughter (Isabella Amara). When they finally make contact in a mall, Wilson strikes against three teens who've decided to make Claire's life a living hell, literally diving at one of them. They ride on kiddie trains, eat ice cream in the park, and it's all a cooky, crazy hilarious time.

But then Wilson moves into a very place, as Wilson finds himself behind bars (apparently, he forgot to mention to Claire's adoptive family about his intentions). Any inertia is robbed in the soul-sucking third act, which feels like a completely different movie. The tonal shift is courtesy of Writer Daniel Clowes - who also wrote the book - proving once again that a screenplay by the book's author just doesn't work. That whipsaw is jarring, and it only gets worse after Wilson is released, as he sees his neighborhood change, his relationships ended, and even a death of loved one. That is not where I thought this one would go, and it's easily the most disappointing moves I've seen this year from a film. Wilson feels like two movies Frankensteined together, making each one better than the whole. Luckily, the film is well-cast, with Dern and Harrelson tooling around town like their own personality wrecking crew, with Dern the hammer and Wilson the nail. They feed off each other amazingly, donning sailor mouths and happy to piss in the pool of each other's lives. It makes for some of the best parts of the movie, but there's plenty of this comedy that's almost worth checking out. Almost.

Wilson fails magnificently, suffering from too many tonal changes without explaining why it chooses to go that way. It's like watching the final episode of Seinfeld after witnessing one of the best seasons of any show, ever. This one will soon find its way into the Blu-ray bin, local cable stations, and Netflix streaming. There, you can witness the quintessential example of a project that either got away from Director Johnson, was altered by the studio, or simply didn't know what it wanted to be in the first place. But you've got too much better stuff to watch so let this one die an honorable death for a heinous crime.

Wilson is rated R for language throughout and some sexuality and has a runtime of 94 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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