Woody Harrelson is perhaps one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors of the past few decades – with countless fantastic performances across his career, you’d think the actor would have become one of the biggest in the world such is his immeasurable talents. But the former Cheers star has always been on the periphery which still beggars belief if you look through his catalogue of roles – whether it’s in True Detective, Rampart, White Men Can’t Jump or Natural Born Killers, Harrelson truly is one of the greats. And his new film, the acerbic comedy Wilson, only proves it further.
Harrelson stars as the titular anti-hero, a middle-aged loner who has become increasingly disillusioned with the modern society that has arisen around him – people not talking to people, more interested in their computer screens, social media and anything else that stops them having to have real conversations. Such is his detest of modern life, he’s the annoying guy on the bus that wants you to put the headphones away and have a chat with, no fault of his own mind but such is the way of the 21st century he’s a remnant of a time long past making his automatically frustrating. His search for a new lease of life is given fresh impetus when he reconnects with estranged ex-wife (Dern) and proceeds to tell him that he is a father to a young girl who she gave up for adoption over 18 years ago.
There’s a fascinating, incredibly funny film to be found in Wilson but the concept and conceit, while challenging and humorous in many places, loses momentum quicker than you would have hoped. The first half of the film, the introduction of Wilson and the initial meeting with his daughter are brilliantly funny and acerbic with a wit and affection that moulds together beautifully under the trusted hands of director Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins). But once the story starts off on its new trajectory with Wilson and his strange reconciliation with his daughter Claire (Amara), the film slows and begins to run out of steam which leaves a somewhat frustrating taste in the mouth.
The blame can’t be laid at Harrelson’s door as the Oscar Nominee is absolutely stunning in the lead role, perhaps his best since The People vs Larry Flint. A superb concoction of humour, anger, and confusion, it’s a nuanced performance that allows Harrelson to be funny, dramatic and strangely charming sometimes all in the same scene. Ably supported by the brilliant Laura Dern as his equally acerbic and foul-mouthed ex-wife as she continues her wonderful run of form after her performances in Big Little Lies and Certain Women – the two make a dynamic duo and it’s something of a shame that film isn’t anchored around them even more than it is.
While it’s uneven and slightly disjointed in places, there is much to admire about Wilson – when it’s funny it’s an absolute blast but it’s sadly a little sporadic in places that ultimately frustrates just when it feels like you are getting invested, meaning it’s more of an enjoyable comedy than a great one. Thankfully, Harrelson’s superb performance is the shining light of the film and with another dynamite turn from Laura Dern at his side, they give as much a reason as any to seek out Wilson.
Wilson is out in the UK on June 9th