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With: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Judy Greer, Margo Martindale, Cheryl Hines, Isabella Amara, Mary Lynn Rajskub
Written by: Daniel Clowes, based on his graphic novel
Directed by: Craig Johnson
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and some sexuality
Running Time: 94
Date: 03/24/2017

Wilson (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Angry Optimist

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Comics great Daniel Clowes adapts his 2010 graphic novel to the screen, and like his previous movies Ghost World and Art School Confidential -- both directed by Terry Zwigoff -- it's filled with vulgar, adult humor. But it's also extremely funny, truthful, and touching.

In Wilson, Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is a dog-lover, and something of an outspoken optimist, expecting the best in human behavior and outraged when he doesn't get it. His life is changed when his father takes a turn for the worst, and he begins to despair about leaving the planet with nothing to show for it. But then fate re-introduces him to Pippi (Laura Dern), his ex-wife whom he's never quite forgotten.

He then discovers that she once had a daughter whom she gave up for adoption. They find her, the now teenage Claire (Isabella Amara), overweight and with a huge attitude, and Wilson becomes enthralled with the idea of being a family. Unfortunately, Wilson hasn't quite registered that his visits with Claire, done without the knowledge of her adopted parents, aren't quite legal.

Though the character from the book was often difficult to like, Wilson features a character that is a kind of cynical optimist, expecting the best of people but outraged when he doesn't get it. Thanks in part to a nuanced performance by Woody Harrelson, Wilson becomes something of a lovable misfit.

Director Craig Johnson, whose great The Skeleton Twins was unafraid to look at the dark side of human nature while still achieving funny, truthful characters, does fine work here again. Besides Harrelson, Laura Dern is miraculous as Wilson's ex, struggling to keep upright, and each and every smaller role is fleshed out by a memorable, vivid performance. The movie's look and pacing echo Clowes's comic work, creating a world both ridiculous and warm. It's a subtly complex movie, and though outcome is still a little dark, Wilson is ultimately hopeful.

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