Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Wilson (2017) * * *
Directed by: Craig Johnson
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Cheryl Hines, Isabella Amara, Judy Greer
I don't know what to make of Wilson's title character, played by Woody Harrelson, who to his credit manages to evoke sympathy for a person who is frankly all over the map. In one scene is a pushy codger with clearly no respect for other people's privacy and boundaries. In another, he is a sentimental lonely guy just looking for love. The movie doesn't successfully reconcile who Wilson is, but that doesn't make the movie bad. Wilson is all elbows until he (and the movie) isn't anymore, but it keeps us watching keenly, so it must be doing something right.
(Disclaimer: Wilson is not in any way related to the volleyball in Cast Away). Instead, he is a lonely middle-aged Minnesotan who lives in an apartment above a karate studio. There are piles of books everywhere. A maid would want hazard pay to clean Wilson's place. He spends his days walking his dog and sitting at stranger's tables at a corner café when other tables are vacant. Wilson is looking for a human connection, I guess, but he clearly does not see he is being inappropriate. I was thinking I was going to be in for a long movie, but Wilson soon curtails this desperate behavior after coming into contact with his former flame Pippi (Dern), a recovering drug addict trying to eke out a living as a waitress.
Pippi informs Wilson that she gave birth to his child (which he thought was aborted) 17 years ago and gave her up for adoption. Wilson and Pippi track the girl down, who lives with affluent parents in a Minnesota suburb. Her name is Claire (Amara), who is bullied for being overweight and has adopted a gothic look almost by default. Wilson and Pippi soon reconnect with her, much to Wilson's joy and Pippi's more muted pleasure. Claire kind of, sort of takes to Wilson and soon they go places as a "family".
I won't give away what happens to Wilson, Pippi, and Claire, except to say their visit to Pippi's snooty sister's home for a weekend ends very, very badly. Wilson throughout maintains a peppy, if uneven tone, even though its characters are clearly sad cases. The only character who can even begin to experience happiness is Shelly (Greer), a professional dog walker who takes Wilson in much like she would a stray. Dealing with Wilson daily may be a cure for that happiness.
The tall, thin Dern remains one of the most intriguing actresses around. Her Pippi is ambivalent about having Wilson suddenly back in her life. She wears this ambivalence on her face in ever-changing expressions ranging from puzzlement to wonderment. There are moments in which she may actually allow herself to be happy, except she seems to know disaster lurks around the corner if you hang with Wilson long enough.
Wilson is not a movie that understands what it wants us to feel about Wilson. It gambles on Harrelson's charm to carry us into places we wouldn't normally follow, and it succeeds mostly. The ending turns sentimental on a dime and represents a swerve in direction, but oddly we find ourselves happy for Wilson, who found a way to stumble onto contentment for the first time in his life. Maybe now he will stop sitting next to strangers on trains and bombarding them with questions.