“Wil­son” fails to hu­man­ize its car­toon­ish ti­tle char­ac­ter

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Michael O’Sul­li­van

Com­edy. R. 101 min­utes.

“I be­lieve that ev­ery one of us has a story to tell.”

So be­gins the dry, voiceover nar­ra­tion of the film “Wil­son,” cour­tesy of Woody Har­rel­son in the ti­tle role. Wil­son, a mid­dle-aged mis­an­thrope, is based on a char­ac­ter cre­ated by Daniel Clowes in his graphic novel of the same name. Clowes — whose “Ghost World” and “Art School Con­fi­den­tial” have pre­vi­ously been made into films — adapted his 2010 book for this screen version, di­rected by Craig John­son of “The Skele­ton Twins.”

Wil­son may be cor­rect — that we all have some­thing to get off our chests — but the ev­i­dence pre­sented by this sour-to-the­p­oint-of-toxic belly­acher sug­gests that not all of our rav­ings are equally worth telling, or hear­ing. Wil­son’s in­sis­tent anti-charisma kills what­ever in­her­ent charm his story pos­sesses, in its nar­ra­tive of a jerk at­tempt­ing to bond with the daugh­ter he never knew he had.

Over the course of the film, Wil­son — who has no vis­i­ble means of sup­port but mocks peo­ple, like an I.T. con­sul­tant, for their jobs — learns that his exwife (Laura Dern) did not have an abor­tion af­ter she left him sev­eral years ago, as he be­lieved. “Wil­son” is the kind of film that ex­pects a laugh when we learn that his ex is named Pippi — as in Long­stock­ing – and that she now sports a tat­too on her lower back read­ing “Prop­erty of Sir D.A.D.D.Y. Big (ex­ple­tive).” Wil­son, at an­other point, creeps out some dude stand­ing next to him at a uri­nal by com­pli­ment­ing the stranger on his, er, equip­ment.

Again, that’s meant to be funny.

The movie cen­ters on Wil­son’s at­tempt to es­tab­lish some kind of rap­port with his now-teenage daugh­ter (Is­abella Amara), who was given up for adop­tion, al­though the film gives us no rea­son to be­lieve that he has ever suc­cess­fully con­nected with a hu­man be­ing be­fore. What may have worked on the pages of a book-length car­toon comes across as merely car­toon­ish when en­acted by live ac­tors.

At least here it does. Steve Buscemi’s sim­i­larly mis­fit Sey­mour in “Ghost World” man­aged to evoke a dys­pep­tic pity from the au­di­ence that Wil­son, alas, can­not, de­spite the film’s stren­u­ous ef­forts to hu­man­ize him. There’s a story here, all right, but it’s a heart­less and bit­ter one.

Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox

Woody Har­rel­son in “Wil­son.”

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