Based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, Woody Harrelson is Wilson, probably one of the most random and least liked characters I’ve come across so far this year. He starts and goes throughout the film, with a random series of unpleasant tics of being the most annoying person in the world, rather than a convincing human being. This problem extends to the film itself. It thinks it’s intelligent and possibly a comedy as it supposedly gives us earth-shattering insights into the human condition with establishing Wilson’s unreliability at the outset, pitting his self-righteous voiceover narration against the realities of his condescension toward strangers. But the character we end up seeing never really adds up to more than the sum of his vulgar outbursts and flagrant disregard for conventional social graces, schizophrenically flipping from pessimism to arrogance to sentimentality sometimes within the same scene and not done well, with the character coming off as more mentally unbalanced than anything else.
The film’s events are driven by the death of Wilson’s father, which inspires in an increasingly lonely Wilson a desire to reconnect with his ex-wife, Pippi (Laura Dern), and the daughter, Claire (Isabella Amara), he discovers she didn’t terminate the pregnancy as he had assumed, but put the child up for adoption. But his oddly portrayed idea of a conventional nuclear family doesn’t track with his distaste for what he sees as the soul-sucking suburban lifestyle, a contradiction that the filmmakers either don’t recognize or refuse to address for the sake of indulging in easy potshots at suburbia. Such contradictions are simply part and parcel of the film’s confused whole. Throughout its running time, Wilson lurches from melancholy to cartoonish slapstick, to dropping f-bombs for the sheer sake of no reason whatsoever, but to be more annoying and it’s just unable to settle on a consistent tone. Wilson, Pippi and Claire are surrounded by caricatures oddly done mix of middle-and upper-class insularity. The worst is Polly (Cheryl Hines), Pippi’s sister, who’s so monstrously judgmental of her sister’s lifestyle that she’s willing to lie to Wilson about what Pippi does for a living when he embarks on his quest to reconnect with his ex-wife. Clowes might have intended this graphic novel to be a critique of the kind of out-of-touch smugness Wilson represents, but the film often feels like an symbol of just that toxicity. Add in the factor of bad acting from everyone except for the two-minute scene with Alta played by the always strong Margo Martindale, to the fact that it’s not funny in the slightest should have many skipping this one till they can see it on VOD.
Media Review Screening: Tuesday, March 21, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Nationwide Release: Friday, March 24, 2017
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