Sundance London: Wilson (2017)

Woody Harrelson is a cartoon character made flesh in Wilson, an uncomfortable satirical comedy directed by The Skeleton Twins‘ Craig Johnson.

All in the Family

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Woody Harrelson’s performance just about saves a meandering film version of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel. He’s opinionated middle-aged loner Wilson (single name only), who ambles through life being too honest, saying the unsayable, taking risks, being the weirdo talking to unwilling strangers on trains, and who is so laid back and self-opinionated that he’s really irritating. His saving grace is his adorable wire-haired fox terrier, a shoo-in for the Palm Dog if the film had had a Cannes screening – perhaps time for a Sundog?

When his father dies at 93 and his only friends move away, he suddenly realises how lonely he is. He leaves his dog with sympathetic dog-sitter Shelly (Judy Greer) and tries to reconnect with a crusty, demented old schoolfriend (David Warshofsky). When that fails, he unsuccessfully tries to chat up random women but he’s no charmer. When that fails too, he manages to trace his trashy ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern), who he hasn’t seen for 17 years. She’s a recovered alcoholic and substance abuser now working as a low-level waitress. He embarrasses her by ambushing her at her work, but against the odds, they hook up again and she reveals that, rather than having an abortion as he thought when they divorced, in fact they had a daughter that she gave up for adoption. Fired up by the thought of being a family man at last, Wilson manages to trace her and embarrass her too, when he and Pippi stalk her to a shopping mall and he fights schoolmates who are mocking her. Claire (Isabella Amara) is an overweight misfit just like her biological parents, brought up by wealthy adoptive parents, who treats Wilson’s unexpected revelation that he’s her father and the sudden appearance of her two previously unknown and manic parents pityingly, though she agrees to spend a weekend with him and Pippi on a doomed visit to her disapprovingly conventional sister from hell Polly (Cheryl Hines) and her perfect family. It doesn’t end well.

Director Craig Johnson’s The Skeleton Twins was a successful, emotional comedy that starred Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. His adaptation of Wilson is absurd and satirical, particularly the changes in his neighbourhood Wilson finds after a few years’ absence from it. Eventually, in sitcom fashion, learning takes place for Wilson as a result of his experiences yet despite this Wilson ends up being more enjoyable than you might have expected.

Wilson premiered in the UK at the Sundance London film festival on 4 June. It is released on 9 June 2017 in the UK.

Join the discussion