Wilson Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Isabella Amara. Directed by Craig Johnson. Rated R. Opens Friday in select theaters.
Woody Harrelson throws himself into the title role of Wilson, but his enthusiasm isn’t enough to hold together the disjointed movie. Based on a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes (Ghost World), who also wrote the screenplay, Wilson is an episodic character study about an inconsistent character, who’s both a curmudgeon and a self-described “people person,” socially inept and yet randomly charismatic, depending on what the scene calls for. Wilson isn’t the only character in the movie who’s hard to get a grasp on, and Clowes and director Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins) careen from one setup to another, with jarring shifts in tone from dark comedy to poignant melancholy.
The main plot thread involves Wilson tracking down his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern) and learning that, soon after she left him, she gave birth to a daughter whom she gave up for adoption. Both slightly unstable, Wilson and Pippi essentially strong-arm their daughter Claire (Isabella Amara) into bonding with them, unbeknownst to her adoptive parents. The movie’s best scenes involve this dysfunctional makeshift family, and Harrelson and Dern have strong chemistry as exes whose bitterness fuels passion. But that connection disappears as the movie lurches into entirely new storylines, going from crass to sentimental and back again. Wilson himself is meant to be likably unlikable, but spending 90 minutes with him proves to be mostly exhausting.