WilsonSundance London 2017
Appearing at first to be a tale about an unbalanced vagrant type who says whatever goes through his head, Craig Johnson’s Wilson is actually an inspiring, hopeful story. Guileless and without the usual social graces by which most of us abide, Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is like a misfit angel who has come to earth to try to convince people of what really matters: talking to each other, love and family. The point is not that this man is a loser or crazy – although outwardly it is how he appears to the average person – but that he is an innocent, good soul, perhaps too kind and honest for this world.
A middle-aged child who has not adapted to the realities of adulthood, Wilson’s anti-social behaviour leaves him lonely and lost, seeking connection with strangers and crashing into a woman’s car so he can ask her out. He rekindles his relationship with his ex (Laura Dern), who had veered off into drugs and prostitution, but is now getting it together. Discovering that her pregnancy was never actually aborted and that their child, a little girl, was given up for adoption, he locates his daughter (Isabella Amara) and they develop a relationship, the three creating a secret “family” without the knowledge of her adoptive parents.
Lacking in self-restraint, Harrelson’s character says exactly what’s on his mind, for better or for worse. While looking for his ex he blurts out to her new employer that she used to be a “crack whore”. When he tries to renew an old friendship with a childhood buddy, the guy’s negative attitude gets to him: “I forgot what a toxic, soul-draining vampire you are”.
The message of Wilson is perhaps that innocence and honesty are traits lost with childhood, which the world needs as a counter to cynicism and hypocrisies, and that kindness, compassion and love are what really matter. But the film conveys this with a healthy dose of maturity: after a stint in jail (charged with kidnapping his daughter), the protagonist admits that “prison helped turn me into an adult finally”.
There is terrific acting here. Harrelson was made for the role of Wilson, as the star himself has a naturalness, insouciance and eccentric directness to his personality; and he and Dern have great chemistry together. A well written and well directed piece, Wilson is very funny, outrageous, sweet, moving and uplifting.
Wilson is released nationwide on 9th June 2017.
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