Imagine how hard it must be to make a film about an obnoxious self-obsessed neurotic nobody. Maybe add several equally unlikeable characters then tell a story that starts and ends nowhere special with little of interest happening in between. This is the film Wilson (2017) and calling it a black comedy does nothing to lighten its dead weight. But it begs the question: why was this film made?
There are two ways to read Wilson and both depend on your threshold for finding people unbearable. Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is either a radically honest out-of-the-ballpark quirky communicator who has no filters, boundaries or respect for the normal conventions of social interaction; or he is a toxic human being who you would avoid at all costs. Or perhaps he is both. When his father dies, he is confronted by the ultimate existential crisis: divorced, alone and unloved, he ponders what does his life mean? He tracks down his ex-wife who he has not seen for 17 years in the hope that some spark of affection might be rekindled. She has not had an easy life, having been a ‘crack whore’ and a streetwalker. As if mentioning a mutual acquaintance they once knew, she tells him she had baby girl 17 years ago who was put up for adoption. Wilson’s already fragile emotional world implodes and the rest of the film tracks his pathetic efforts to reclaim his alienated daughter and become the father he always hoped to be. In the final scenes, the story jumps to his release from jail after serving time for kidnapping his daughter, and we are meant to celebrate the reluctant reunion in a kind of ‘blood is thicker than water’ moral finale to this pointless story.
Conventional film review criteria like characterisation, filming and narrative coherence seem irrelevant for a story based on repulsive people doing stupid things. The dialogue is trite and unfunny, and attempts at absurdist humour fall flat, or worse, are alienating. For example, when Wilson enters a near-empty train carriage to pester a stranger with intrusive and out-of-place questions we squirm with discomfort as we do when he ridiculously gawks at a stranger urinating. His insistence on paternal rights irrespective of his daughter’s needs verges on irrational psychological abuse. There are many reasons to dislike this film, including the laboured sexual references disguised as humour and the implied linking of his daughter’s body-image issues to her adoption. If there is hidden meaning in Wilson, this reviewer has failed to find it.
Director: Craig Johnson
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Sandy Oian-Thomas, Shaun Brown
A USA production