FilmReview

Review: ‘Wilson’ Fails to Translate

Sam Reynolds ’18/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Of all the comic book adaptations to be released over the past decade, Wilson is perhaps the least likely to garner success because of its source material. The original comic of the same name is not a commonly recognized title, and is so ordinary in premise that one would never assume it came from a comic book in the first place. The graphic novel is written as a series of gag-strips; it is a satirical piece of work that follows a lonely, conceited man that claims to want human connection yet cannot stand other people most of the time. The jokes almost always land because the medium of comic-strips allows for such satire to be believable. In such a short and to-the-point format, the content reads as a clever commentary on our tendency of grow increasingly dissatisfied with our lives as we age. Think Louis CK or George Carlin in comic form.

As a feature length film, however, Wilson is already fighting an uphill battle. Wilson himself is not a very likable character, and in order to endure 90 plus minutes with him, the story must be able to both pace his narcissistic tendencies and understand that his story works best not in the real world, but in the world of satire. On both fronts, Wilson is a failure.

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Woody Harrelson in Wilson. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

We first meet Woody Harrelson‘s Wilson as he is stumbling out of bed and beginning his day. As he goes about his mundane morning tasks, audiences are given a voice over to let us know who is the man is: He is a dick. Plain and simple. An emotionally stunted man-child who has a narcissistic outlook of the world, yet makes a point to ignore any and all social boundaries with both strangers and loved ones alike seemingly seeking a real connection that has been lacking in his life. The character is clearly meant to be jarring and edgy; a hard-to-like, impossible-to-love protagonist that you can only assume is meant to end up being endearing by the story’s end. Aside from a few bright moments, Wilson ultimately fails to reach that intended connection with its audience.

But the film does try really, really hard to get there. And that’s part of the problem. As a character, Wilson does need to be all that likable. Louis CK and Larry David are perfect examples of on-screen assholes who have the same outlook on life, but still manage to garner occasional sympathy. Both comedians know that in order to maintain an audience, their exaggerated characters cannot be placed in the real world, but in a slightly of version of the real world; one that feels absurd and chaotic, yet still rings true in its situational awkwardness. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is another example of a show the succeeds in nailing such cultural cynicism while still practicing moral awfulness. It can be done.

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Woody Harrelson in Wilson. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

However the creative team behind Wilson fails to take note, and instead places the character in a world that could be home to any other light comedy. As a result, Wilson is as jarring as its main character in both story and tone, but not in any sort of insightful way. The first few scenes of the film establish that Wilson is a lonely man who makes a point, intentionally or not, to isolate everyone who so much looks at him. There is some fine comedy there, but it’s more unsettling than it is genuinely entertaining. His asshole tendencies run rampant.

Next thing you know, you are watching Wilson cry over his father’s deathbed. He tries to muscle out some last words from his old man, but concludes it is too late either way, before having a profound moment of misery that is meant to kickstart the movie’s plot. As you are witnessing the scene, you wonder if you’re even watching the same movie. Sure, Wilson’s troubled past with his father is probably the reason he is such a conflicted character – parenthood is a key theme of the movie – but why drop such a dramatic bomb on the audience before we’ve even gotten to know the character? Almost every dramatic moment feels undeserved or out of left field. One moment Wilson is a narcissist, the next he is a wise man who is coming to terms with aging and parenthood. One sceneWilson is absurdly and unnecessarily cruel, the next he is just too enlightened to tolerate technology and the barriers it creates in day-to-day life. Just like the broken characters that it revolves around, Wilson is uneven and directionless. That type of formula can be forgiven if the film was leading up to something. Unfortunately, Wilson just feels pointless.

Woody Harrelson does his damn best to give a certain softness and pain to the character, and acts his ass off to the best of his ability. Harrelson is the latest in the endless sea of actors who bring their best to the roll but have little to work with in material. As a result, Harrelson is either overly-obnoxious or too sympathetic, and is unable to find the balance that a better script would allow him to flourish under.

Above all, one has to wonder why Wilson was made. It’s creative team clearly did not have a grasp on the appeal of the source material, and the title is not guaranteed any sort of box office success other than in big name actors, which can only do so much. It’s a confusing movie in almost every regard, but not a very memorable one.

Overall Grade: C- 

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