Directed by Craig Johnson
Released March 24, 2017
Some people just have a problem with the way the world works. It’s a frequent joke – not far from the reality in many cases – that those currently among the older generation strive for a return to simpler times before the advent of texting and screens that diminish the desire for good old-fashioned human interaction. Grandparents may prohibit their offspring from using their phones at the table and institutions may bar electronics or selfie sticks from public places, but an effort to combat modernity and whatever advances, good or bad, that it has brought are usually futile, no matter how determined the person trying to reverse the course of history is.
Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is the kind of man who purposely chooses the seat next to the one person sitting on an otherwise empty bus and strikes up a conversation even though that person is wearing headphones and listening to music. Unhappy with just about everything around him, Wilson’s life takes a turn in a new direction when he finds the ex-wife, Pippi (Laura Dern), who left him years earlier and discovers that she did in fact have the baby he thought she gave up. Neither Wilson nor Pippi is a particularly positive role model for their misfit teenage daughter, Claire (Isabella Amara), yet they both find it immensely difficult to let her go after missing out on so many years of her childhood, eager to help her embrace her individuality.
Wilson is an instantly memorable character who couldn’t have been played by a more fitting actor. Harrelson has a way of speaking that often makes his lines inherently funny, and indulging in the absurdity of the impossibly stubborn and eternally inappropriate Wilson yields excellent results. Harrelson is clearly having fun, and he does a great job portraying a man who’s hard to like but easy to root for. Dern, as the completely frenzied and ungrounded Pippi, is a solid match for him, and Amara complements them both nicely with a good deal of personality and disdain for the world. Margo Martindale, Judy Greer, and Cheryl Hines contribute memorably in small roles.
This project feels very much like a Fox Searchlight film, telling the story of one loner whose outlook on life makes him a unique outlier and an equally fascinating protagonist. It’s the latest in an impressive line of independent films produced by the distribution company, adapting a graphic novel character and bringing him to terrific, hilarious life. Some might find Wilson to be too detestable to be entertaining, but it’s not too hard to find Wilson charming in his own unfriendly way and to really enjoy this experience.