This movie screened twice for critics and I really wanted to see it. Director Craig Johnson impressed me so much with Ghost World (Steve Buscemi/Scarlett Johansson) 15 years ago; although he did disappoint me with The Skeleton Twins a few years ago. I was hoping for the best.
I brought my friend Gerald to the Angelika Film Center with me. It’s funny because at the grand opening of the theatre I was surprised to run into him there. It’s because his company Marino Design Consulting did their plumbing and air conditioning. Small world.
The first 15 minutes of the film, I worried. A lot of dark comedy was thrown our way, and it wasn’t working. And despite the movie being uneven and the tone all over the place — it ended up winning me over.
Woody Harrelson, so great as the sarcastic teacher in The Edge of Seventeen, is a bit too unlikable here. His character should’ve been a bit more charming, or…made a little more sense. It was one of the problems with Denzel Washington in Fences. Denzel rants and rants and rants…and just sounds like an angry idiot. At least with Wilson, we sometimes agree with his points. That goes a long way to making a character more watchable on screen.
What also helps is that every supporting character is perfectly done. Laura Dern, in what might be her best performance ever, is the ex-wife that is trying to get her life back together. Playing a former drug addict and prostitute now waitressing, could lend itself to lame jokes or overacting — but how they played that all was perfect (Harrelson noticing the tattoo on her lower back….rivals the laugh I had with him noticing the tattoo on the back of Randy Quaid in Kingpin over 20 years ago).
There’s new-comer Isabella Amara, as the 17-year-old daughter Wilson didn’t know he had. She could’ve just been a snotty goth girl with no depth. Yet her performance, and how the character is written, was terrific.
Character actor David Warshofsky has a terrific scene as an old friend who might be the only person on the planet angrier than Wilson. When he offers Wilson some beet juice, the reply is perfect.
Margo Martindale, always fun on screen, has an interesting “date” with Wilson. When he’s devouring his milkshake and they’re talking about how hard it is to find the right person, she talks about a guy she was with for six years that was gay. As un-PC as she gets about it, she talks about letting herself go. He tries to reassure her with a comment like “Not all men are concerned about looks. I once dated somebody that was a real hippo.”
Judy Greer is great as the dog sitter, and it’s wonderful that they didn’t just make her some new-age airhead. She brings a lot to the table.
It is frustrating that some of the scenes aren’t done a little better. For example, having him strike up a conversation with a guy at the urinal is brilliant. Especially the unexpected direction the conversation goes. The punchline to that scene (“Hey…nice c**k!”) elicited a laugh from us, but could’ve been done in a more realistic fashion. The humor should’ve just been the fact that the guy has some good advice about raising kids.
And you just can’t buy the fact that he’d be as clueless as he is at certain times. One of those times would be a comment he says to a huge, Randall “Tex” Cobb looking guy with a swastika on his face.
So the characters often make bad decisions. But it’s just fun watching this loser mope through his life. It had enough interesting stuff going on that it’s worth your time to see.
I’m not sure how closely it sticks to Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel (he also wrote Ghost World). I’m guessing fans of it won’t be disappointed.
This gets 3 stars out of 5.