The 400-Word Review: Wilson

By Sean Collier

March 28, 2017

I think you're probably way out of my league.

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Towards the end of the alleged comedy Wilson, I remember thinking that the film felt like a failed attempt to ape Ghost World. This was without knowing that the film is, in fact, written by Daniel Clowes, based on his own graphic novel; Clowes is the author and screenwriter of Ghost World.

So, then, Clowes rehashed and regurgitated his own ideas after growing older and more jaded, and a movie eventually happened. And — unlike the fresh and heartfelt Ghost World — it isn’t a good movie.

Wilson follows its title character, played by Woody Harrelson, as he reconnects with ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern) and discovers that she had his child; Pippi gave the baby up for adoption. In a flagrant violation of ... you know, everything, Wilson tracks the now-teenage girl and tries to reconnect.

The unavoidable issue: Wilson is irritating, crass, hateful, misogynistic and entirely unlikable. Harrelson works hard to find some heart in him, but there is simply nothing in the text to support this. Textually, that makes Wilson just another story in which a patently unsupportable man ends up with two separate intelligent and desirable women for no reason other than a general tendency of writers to believe their male characters far more worthy of affection than they truly are. But more broadly, it makes the experience of watching Wilson utterly awkward; the viewer will have no choice but to accept that the character deserves not only failure but proper comeuppance, and thus will be baffled when the script continues to treat him as sympathetic and redemptive.


Too much? Simply: this guy is a jerk and you’ll want him to fail, but the movie wants him to win. That’s no way to make a movie.

Heartfelt and careful performances are given by Dern and Judy Greer, as Wilson’s dogsitter; both actresses and characters deserve to be removed from this film and placed in another where they can exist as fully realized humans rather than condiments to the tasteless beef patty that is Wilson. Ditto for Margo Martindale, who may be the film’s only fully sympathetic character... so Wilson ignores her completely. She appears in two scenes.

Wilson is not without its laughs, as the acerbic, comic sensibilities of its writer are handled well by Harrelson. But if anyone knows why a movie about an annoying guy behaving stupidly should be fun to watch, please let me know.

My Rating: 3/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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