"Wilson" made me laugh more and harder than a lot of better comedies. I'm neither proud nor ashamed of that but that's the bottom line here.
I wouldn't claim to anyone that screenwriter Daniel Clowe's adaptation of his own graphic novel is a good and satisfying movie. It's as obnoxious and annoying sometimes as its lead character. And it goes kerflooey, right into ick at the end. But, hey, so what? We've all seen movies before--including those that don't really work but give you an awful lot of hearty laughs along the way. Well, here's another.
So here's our eponymous hero Wilson (one name, just Wilson), who seems just about the loneliest man in town. That's because he probably deserves to be. He loves his dog. And likes his best friend. And that's about it.
He is, otherwise, almost endlessly obnoxious and obtrusive, a man remarkably inventive about discovering the least appropriate behavior in any situation. The movie's poster shows him gregariously sidling up to the fellow at the next urinal (in an empty row) to have a chat. No secret agenda, you understand, just a little passing of the time of day with another human being.
His best friend is about to move to St. Louis. And his dog has to be boarded for a little while he attends to his completely, uncommunicative father in his final days.
He is, I assure you, quite hilarious as he presumes on the world. Taking their content in specifics, his freelance railings at the world aren't terribly interesting. It's his life habit to overstate every complaint to make them so. It's also his life habit to complain about almost everything.
Which means that he not only has no computer or cell phone but he's never heard of Yelp either (whatever it it, he's sure it can't be good). He'd be an authentic curmudgeon if he weren't so indefatigably cheerful about being a one-man opposition party to the entire world.
We know from the tender way he looks through his now-dead father's scrapbooks how much he loved his mother. We also know that he loved his wife Pippi (yes, Pippi as in Longstocking) until, that is, she became a crack whore which, you must admit, would likely discourage domestic tranquility.
So, while going through his father's old things and remembering his old life, he gets the idea to look up his ex, whose life, last he knew, had declined so precipitously.
Surprise, surprise. She's cleaned up her act completely. And we in the audience discover that she's Laura Dern. That's when he discovers that no, she didn't get an abortion 17 years ago and that he's, in fact, a father of a daughter who has been brought up with an adopted family.
Because this is based on a graphic novel, his long-lost daughter is not a ray of sunshine in a dark world but, in fact, an unhappy girl constantly teased at school about her weight problems. As if her life unhappiness weren't present enough, she is about to discover what it's like to be related by blood to one of the most hilariously annoying human beings in the world.
What makes this movie work as hilariously as it so often does is that starring as Wilson--and doing a bang-up job--is Woody Harrelson, a comic actor who, when he is in his element, is richly and gloriously funny.
It's Wilson's tireless, infectious smile that utterly traduces the world against its better judgment. That's the smile that's constant when he isn't otherwise weeping copiously. This is a fellow who can be betrayed by everyone, accused and convicted of kidnapping and, after getting turned into a punching bag in prison, somehow convert the rest of the prison population into his own merry band of outsiders, a kind of giddy meeting place where the Muslims and Nazis can meet in the prison yard with him and share a few laughs.
If you ask me, the movie passed up a lot of really good comic material in The Big House but, well, when a screenwriter is adapting his own graphic novel, no one can tell him what to do.
So it's his baby. All of it.
It thinks it's going somewhere at the end but it isn't really.
It's just a story about the world's most loyal and annoying opposition, a hopelessly chatty contrarian whose answer to his ex's refusal to live "in a fantasy world" is to reply "how is reality working out for you?" Not too well, really.
It becomes contagious.
My suggestion to is by all means to see "Wilson" because its jet-black humor may, if you're like me, make you laugh hard and often while conveyed with Harrselson's irrepressibility.
And if you don't like the rest of the film when it isn't so funny--which you very well may not--just think of all the better things you might have done with this wonderful cast--Harrelson, Dern, Judy Greer, Mary Ann Rajskub and Cheryl Hines. That'll fill your time nicely.
Three stars (out of four)
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Judy Greer, Mary Ann Rajskub, Cheryl Hines
Director: Craig Johnson
Running time: 94 minutes
Rated: R for language and some sex
The lowdown: Obnoxious loner finds his drugged out ex after 17 years and a daughter he never knew he had.