Likability is overrated. A lead character doesn’t have to be likable for a film to be good. The trick is, though, that the character has to be interesting for this to work. Wilson, the center of the film of the same name, isn’t a likable character – though Woody Harrelson is certainly a magnetic presence. But he’s also not a particularly interesting character. He’s also surrounded by a film that’s more eager to watch him go crazy and resolve its story in 90 minutes than do anything noteworthy – in other words, it’s a fairly standard indie dramedy.
Wilson (Harrelson) is a peculiar misanthrope who likes to try and make connections with strangers in awkward situations – then insult them almost immediately. After his father passes away, though, he decides to reconnect with his long-gone ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern). Once he finds Pippi, he learns that the baby he long thought she aborted was given up for adoption instead. At Wilson’s insistence, the two track down the teenager, Claire (Isabella Amara), and the three create a relationship of sorts that make Wilson think they may be able to fill the void in his life. Other long-simmering tensions begin to flare up, though, and Wilson ultimately finds himself in worse shape than he was before.
It has to be said: Wilson is a creep. The film doesn’t seem to recognize this tonally, but Wilson’s actions throughout the film are creepy. This is highlighted by the way Wilson and Pippi reenter Claire’s life, without any consideration of how she might feel about the information they bring with them. The film doesn’t give any real weight to the interactions between Wilson and Claire, though. The quirkiness that the film indulges in before they meet simply continues.
That quirkiness is largely built on Wilson’s creepiness, which itself largely consists of a lot of foul-mouthed dialogue. That would be fine if there was anything clever about it. In this case, though, it’s not clever. It’s lazy. It’s an attempt to be funny, because the dialogue without the frequent language would be woefully dreadful.
And yet, the film can lull an audience into a sense that it’s better than it is, mainly because of Harrelson’s committed performance. Harrelson is that magnetic of an actor, and he has legitimate chemistry with Dern. I want to see more of these two together, in a film that’s worthier of their talents. Wilson is not that film, unfortunately.