Wilson Review – Even Solid Acting Can’t Save the Lukewarm Dramady

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Wilson, from Fox Searchlight Pictures, brings to the screen a haphazard tale of life as told from the marginalized and the twist, turns, bumps bruises that comes from contemporary living, anesthetizing choices and attempts to recapture the past.

Directed by Craig Johnson, Wilson stars Woody Harrelson, Lauren Dern, Isabella Amara, Cheryl Hines, Brett Gelman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Judy Greer and Margo Martindale. Wilson was written Daniel Clowes.

Wilson begins with voice over from Woody Harrelson describing the idyllic life a child and suddenly the alarm rings and his reality, the life of what he has become, a middle aged, divorced, disheveled hoarder, living in a cramped, apartment with his mutt dog who eats the garbage from the trash.

Wilson is sadly similar eating the garbage of life he lacks even minor social skills, and still at middle age hasn’t learned not to speak every thought that cross his mind. He has a loosely and equally neurotic disjointed circle that he visits on a need only basis.

His oldest childhood friend, Robert, played by Brett Gelman and his wife, Jodie, played by Mary Lynn Rajskub, who announced their part in this charade of a life is over as they are heading to St. Louis to a suburb where the possibility of buying a home, and settling down is very real.

And of course, the dog sitter, Shelly, played by Judy Greer, a quirky, animal lover who dog sits for Wilson and the other strays who need their pets looked after when real life calls or an emergency necessitates.

Throughout the film we are continually reminded that as a socially inept, Wilson hasn’t any idea that standard conversation, a few simple words, even a fake smile would be enough when pursing the opposite sex.

Of course, our Wilson meets the most neurotic dog lover in the pet store and as she has a melt down over the cost of the chew toy the spark of potential propels Wilson to drive his car into her bumper.

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Suddenly Alta, another pet lover, played by Margo Martindale, comes upon Wilson and the two share a few moments which have Wilson pouring out his dating sorrows and how his former wife, Pippy, is the fault.

One quick online search from our technologically savvy Alta that stuns the computer illiterate Wilson and he is running for the phone to call the sister of his first wife.

Which is when we meet Pippy, played by Lauren Dern. Wilson, of course, has painted this picture of a drugged out former prostitute, junkie, and wants to ensure the world knows that this woman, who may look somewhat together, is actually one foot up from the drug induced underbelly and teetering precariously between gutter and curb and could fall back at any minute.

Once Wilson and Pippy reunite, one can see why they broke up, as they bring out the worst in each other. The two rehash their old life, with Wilson creating the trailer from “This Could Have Been Our Life. . .” and as some say the past is better left buried.

Wilson is intended to be a comedy/drama, a dramedy, and it’s like watching emotional gatecrashing as these two barrel though every taboo without thought or concern for the emotions and feelings of others. Each subject they broach with a "fuck it" attitude which results in more hardship, humiliation and pity.

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Okay, obviously, elements of Wilson resonated as my reactions were extreme. Even now, as I write I find myself thinking about the battle lines we draw in life and the choices we make which become ammunition in our wars against those whom we believe are deserving: Siblings, parents, lovers, even ourselves, fueling self-hate with decisions we believe are best at the time or just coping mechanisms.

Anyway, Wilson doesn’t allow the heaviness of the moments to translate for the hole-in-one dramatic ringer that grabs the heartstrings. Wilson breaks up those moments with the stunning realities of the disenfranchised.

The film for me misses, and as I thought about it I’ve tried to dissect the elements and try to pinpoint what caused the misfire.

Clearly it is not the acting; the talented cast, Laura Dern and Woody Harrelson, Margo Martindale, Cheryl Hines, Judy Greer, and newcomer Isabella Amara deliver dynamic performances.

The acting is on point. So possibly the writing, the dialogue for Mr. Harrelson’s character, for me, is uncomfortable. I guess, I didn't find it entertaining to sit through a film and hear the main character regurgitate his every thought from congratulating the man in the urinal beside him to the words he continues to use to describe his ex’s lifestyle. I think it was the intentional abuse, the single through line was abusive, toxic, relationships.

The sophomoric element of it will appeal to a wide cross section of the population and Wilson may do well.

Essentially Wilson is a story told from those looking up barely. The forgotten and disenfranchised majority that get swallowed by life and spend enough time in the belly of the beast to make it out, albeit bruised, broken, and as portrayed almost comical in their inability to cope.

I do want to say the final scenes reflect an entirely different feel for the film.

Wilson is playing in theaters everywhere. 

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