Susan Granger’s review of “Wilson” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Based on Daniel Clowes’ 2010 graphic novel, this dark comedy revolves around an eccentric, middle-aged misanthrope who lives a shabby apartment with Pepper, his engaging wire fox terrier, and is prone to befriend and then brusquely criticize strangers when they’re out for a walk.
After his father dies of cancer and his only friend moves away, irascible Wilson (Woody Harrelson), who is far too forthright and honest, makes a half-hearted attempt to socialize, mentioning to a lonely companion (Margo Martindale) that he misses his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern), who left him 17 years ago.
Leaving Pepper with Shelly (Judy Greer), a sweet-natured dog-sitter, he re-connects with Pippi, who has conquered her crack addiction and is now working as a waitress. Warily, she informs him that the baby he thought she aborted and gave up for adoption is now a teenager.
After some sleuthing, Wilson and Pippi track down now-17-year-old Claire (Isabella Amara), who is living in a nearby suburb with her adoptive parents.
“Why the hell do people move to the suburbs?” Wilson muses. “It’s like a living death.”
Stalking overweight, alienated Claire at the mall, Wilson watches her being bullied by classmates and chooses that bizarre moment to introduce himself, noting: “I’m sure they picked on Copernicus…it’s a badge of honor.”
Stunned, Claire, who is dressed in black and obviously also an outsider, rolls her eyes and backs off. But she’s intrigued enough to join Wilson and Pippi for a disastrous weekend trip to visit Pippi’s judgmental sister Polly (Cheryl Hines).
Superficially adapted by Daniel Clowes (author of “Ghost World”) and clumsily directed by Craig Johnson (“The Skeleton Twins”), it’s memorable mostly for Woody Harrelson’s ineffable charm and multi-faceted performance. Despite his scowl, the twinkle in his eye begs forgiveness for a multitude of sins.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Wilson” is an edgy, quirky 5, reminding us about the importance of integrity.