Woody Harrelson does what he can with the lead role in Wilson, but as movie characters go, his Wilson finishes a distant runner up to the volleyball in Cast Away.
Based on a Dan Clowes comic book character, Wilson is an eccentric loner settled into a reclusive bachelor routine, living with piles of books and a dog in an unkempt apartment, walking the streets of his small town, where suspicious locals give him a wide berth.
His life is disrupted when his father dies, leaving him nothing but an old car. Newly mobile, he seeks out his ex (Laura Dern), just back in town, and learns that he has a daughter, who also lives nearby with adoptive parents, initiating the awkward reunion that forms the loose narrative.
This is really a character-driven affair, however, and the character driving it is Wilson. Harrelson is in every scene, delivering speeches and pronouncements as befit his out-there character. Wilson is candid to a fault, and has no social filter — he demands that strangers remove their earbuds so that he may converse (one-sidedly) with them.
Wilson gambles that it can smooth these rough edges with Harrelson’s charm, but he is overmatched here with a character who is not merely eccentric, but appears to have an untreated mental illness.
Certainly, that would explain why he has no income and no job. Somehow, this penniless and abrasive man proves irresistible to Dern, and also to Judy Greer, who is consistently a great onscreen sport, but asking her to play a woman who takes in this unbalanced stray, as if she has no other options, is a stretch even for her.
Wilson also charms his biological daughter, a high school misfit who finds a sort of soulmate in her long-lost kook of a father, before things go haywire.
She sees that her biological father is a bit mad, but in that madness is a fearless truth-telling. Viewers may not be as forgiving. The script gives Wilson the definitive last word on everything, and it grates.
When he confronts a prison cleric, for instance, Wilson silences him with the assertion that all religion is delusional fantasy. The preacher (cast for maximum softness) is speechless — as if this is the first time a prison preacher has encountered an atheist.
In the end, it’s Wilson you won’t believe in.