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Wilson is an odd little film. It was always going to be, too, as Daniel Clowes' graphic novel of the same name didn't just proudly boast a socially inept but still gregarious titular character, but unfolded in a plodding manner that was going to be hard to translate to the big screen.
While alterations are made in order for Wilson to be more cinematic, it's still caught in the middle ground between the two mediums. This unduly disturbs its rhythm and momentum, and means you're never fully entranced, or take it that seriously as a film. There's a saving grace, though. Sure, Wilson is glaringly uneven, but when Woody Harrelson is in such commanding form, you're willing to forgive, forget, and just enjoy being in his presence.
As Wilson, Woody Harrelson plays a lonely, neurotic and painfully honest middle-aged man, who after the death of his father is struggling to find his place or reasoning in the world. This provokes him to reunite with his estranged wife Pippi (Laura Dern), who then reveals that she previously gave birth to their daughter and put her up for adoption. Wilson decides to go out in search of his estranged offspring, ultimately finding 16-year-old Claire (Isabella Amara), and even tries to build a relationship with her.
Wilson ends up being pleasing despite itself, as the film looks to abide by its source material of one-page gag strips/vignettes by repeatedly meandering around plots, characters, and ideas, giving you little time to get your equilibrium or feel comfortable within its world. It speaks volumes of Daniel Clowes' adaptation of his own material that Wilson is as endearing as it is. Something that he achieves by making sure that each of its characters has their own recognizable traits and personality, even if they're around just for a minute.
Because of the balancing act required, director Craig Johnson seems to spend most of his time just keeping Wilson's head above water, as he barely connects the dots between each scene and the film fails to intensify as it continues. Clearly, Wilson intends to unfold as an offbeat slice of life film, but it's just not funny or piercing enough with its viewpoint to ever rouse an impassioned response.
All of the above would make Wilson grating if it wasn't for Woody Harrelson's performance, though. It's a perfect merging of casting and actor, as Woody Harrelson is able to do the character of Wilson justice, making him neurotic, talkative, and impolite, but still infusing him with a sympathy that means you're always on his side. Throughout Wilson's trails and tribulations, Woody Harrelson sells every little detail, beat, emotion, and generates the laughs that are presented, while finding some that weren't even present.
Woody Harrelson is especially revelatory when he has someone to go toe-to-toe with, as he is seemingly stirred by their reactions to his character. This is particularly true when he goes up against Laura Dern, who also impresses as the drained but intrigued Pippi, as this allows Harrelson to make Wilson lovelorn and even more compassionate, as well as infusing the film with a wistful romanticism. Thanks to Woody Harrelson, Wilson goes from being thankless to pleasantly enjoyable, and it is further affirmation that while he's already a national treasure, he's got plenty more in the tank to impress us with.