It’s likely that most people will share at least one belief with the cankerous, opinionated Wilson. He hates how modern technology divides us. He believes we don’t talk to each other and tell stories enough. He promotes camaraderie and friendship across age, race, and gender. Then again, he’s also invasive, rude, and at one point, felonious.
Wilson’s titular curmudgeon is more an amalgamation of complaints, grievances, and embarrassments, and less of an actual character. He is made only somewhat tolerable by the inherent charm in Woody Harrelson, who brings this graphic novel figure to life on the big screen.Daniel Clowes adapts the screenplay here based on his work creating this nettling, vocal loner, working to hold on to as much sympathy as possible.
That’s because there is plenty that this isolated, middle-aged man does to elicit contempt; he has no particular ethos or identity, he simply is mostly driven by id and outrage. His regular routine of annoying people and telling them what they’re doing wrong with their lives is somewhat upended when he decides to bring his ex-girlfriend Pippi (Laura Dern) back into his life (mainly by stalking), and learns that he has a daughter.
It’s hard to understand what Pippi still finds compelling about Wilson, especially what with the stalking, but at least Dern is a warm and welcome presence and helps further to ground both Wilson and the movie. But every time he comes closer to being a normal character for whom you care, he goes off and does something worse. For instance, he starts stalking his teenage daughter, who is living a life of rebellion with her adoptive parents in some bucolic suburb.
More antics ensue, including run-ins with school bullies, hovering parents, and boastful relatives. Still, Wilson does the bare minimum, if even that, to get you to care about this would-be anti-hero. From any other character’s perspective, he definitely deserves what is coming to him, and probably worse.
Because of that, the humour is short-lived, and any tenderness is weak-willed and wasteful, and a rushed finale feels antithetical to the narrative we follow prior. At least the actors are winning.