Being a misanthrope sure can be lonely
We all need a little love from time to time. Sure, it’s nice to have some time alone for introspection or decompression. But at the same time, we’re inherently social creatures, relying on one another not only for basic survival, but for companionship and unburdening oneself emotionally. It’s our pack-like mentality that has allowed humanity to progress as far as it has. But for the eponymous “Wilson,” it seems this reliance is a hinderance.
For Wilson (Woody Harrelson), the world is a little too disconnected and moving a little too fast. Gone are the day-to-day interactions with locals, something that Wilson forcefully engages in, even if the other person is visibly uncomfortable. Wilson does not believe in cellphones, computers or niceties. He tells it like it is–often to gauche results. But while Wilson may seem like a grumpy, ill-mannered curmudgeon, it is simply that his outlook on life and its social nuances is more pronounced and contrasting to those who have agreed to the Lockean social contract.
As one might have guessed, the film tells the story of Wilson, a misanthropic aging hipster who has a cynical perspective on anything from technology to suburban life. He spends most of his days walking his dog, complaining to people and generally acting aloof. After discovering that he has a teenage daughter (Isabella Amara) from his estranged wife Pippi (Laura Dern), the lonely Wilson realizes he might be able to find just what he was looking for, no matter how disjointed and bizarre: a family.
Adapted from Daniel Clowes’ rollicking graphic novel of the same name, the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter is back again with his first film in over a decade. After having adapted his other graphic novels “Ghost World” and “Art School Confidential” for the silver screen, the artistic factotum has returned to adaptation with “Wilson.” Unfortunately, while “Ghost World” is an insightful and hilarious character examination that resembles the “Daria”-inspired angst of the late-90s and early-2000s, “Wilson” is not. And while Clowes’ newest adaptation attempts to hit the same marks, reflecting many of the same tropes and hermetic themes of his previous screenplays, it seldom achieves it on a consistent basis, something that “Ghost World” expertly did.
But perhaps that is due to the new collaboration between screenwriter and director. Having previously worked exclusively with Terry Zwigoff (“Crumbs”) on his films, it seems that Clowes was understandably ire at the way in which “Art School Confidential” turned out. Deciding to depart from that partnership, Clowes instead began working with yet another director known for his analysis of alienated misfits.
Marking Craig Johnson’s (“The Skeleton Twins”) third feature film, the Pacific Northwest native jumps right back into the nihilistic world of adolescent angst. And while Woody Harrelson (“Kingpin”) and Laura Dern (“Enlightened”) are anything but teenagers, they nonetheless embody the same sort of sardonic disposition that would make one assume that Johnson would know how to navigate this hermetic world.
Regrettably, it seems that Johnson relies much too heavily on the acting prowess of Harrelson and Dern to propel this film into the realm of uproarious cynical dramedy. And while both do the best they can, they are seldom given enough time to create meaningful depth to their characters. From Pippi’s sudden and poorly formalized departure to Wilson’s unfocused motivations, the film’s characters appear to use their multiplicity of emotions to signal character complexity when all it is is a facade for lazy characterization.
Nonetheless, while “Wilson” may not be a return to the great character nuances that Clowes is so adept at shining a light on, the film does have a charming sensibility that does more good than bad. Whether it is Wilson’s social naivete or Pippi’s sister’s (Cheryl Hines) nosy suburbanite morals, the film works to establish a quirky, fun and alluring diegetic world through the eyes of its pessimistic characters. This isn’t a film that is tirelessly focused, but regardless it is one that knows how to establish a humorously nihilistic viewpoint, arguing that no one’s perspective or thoughts matter more than your own.
And with Daniel Clowes set to return to the screenwriting world once more with a new adaptation in the works for his newly released graphic novel, “Patience,” it seems that the writer is poised to not go back into hiatus anytime soon. Here’s to hoping that his newest attempt will have a little more focus than this time around.
“Wilson” is set to be released March 24.