Triumph of the middle-aged misery guts: Wilson is an engaging dark comedy, says BRIAN VINER

Wilson?(15)

Rating:

Verdict: Engaging dark comedy

The U.S. reviews of this film have been distinctly mediocre, but I loved it, maybe because I’m a sucker for a really good screen misanthrope. And Woody Harrelson’s Wilson is right up there with the best, or maybe worst, of them.

He is a rude, rancid misery, with much to be miserable about. Divorced and childless, with his one friend about to move away and his father about to die, Wilson’s only company is his loyal fox terrier, Pepper.

For kicks, Wilson forces strangers into grudging conversation, sitting next to them on otherwise empty trains or buses.?

Woody Harrelson’s (pictured next to co-star Judy Greer) Wilson is right up there with the best, or maybe worst, of them

Woody Harrelson’s (pictured next to co-star Judy Greer) Wilson is right up there with the best, or maybe worst, of them

But he knows he needs something more, so goes in search of his ex-wife, Pippi (Laura Dern), a former drug addict, fully expecting to find her looking ‘skanky and snaggle-toothed’ (in the land of orthodontistry, insults don’t come much worse than ‘snaggle-toothed’) and ‘living with a biker gang’.

Instead, she is trying to rehabilitate herself, with a steady job as a waitress. She gives Wilson the seismic news that instead of the abortion he thought she had shortly after leaving him 17 years before, she gave the child up for adoption.?

Together, Wilson and Pippi duly go looking for their biological daughter, Claire (Isabella Amara), who, in the film’s only duff note, is improbably easy to track down. Claire turns out to be an overweight goth — lonely, waspish and a chip off the old block.

The screenplay is by Daniel Clowes, adapting his own graphic novel. Harrelson is pictured with Greer, who plays a dog-sitter

The screenplay is by Daniel Clowes, adapting his own graphic novel. Harrelson is pictured with Greer, who plays a dog-sitter

Wilson is delighted. He tries to forge a relationship with her, which seems to be working until . . . well, go and find out for yourself. Harrelson and Dern are both superb, and get strong support from Amara, as well as Judy Greer as Wilson’s dog-sitter and Cheryl Hines as Pippi’s prissy sister.

The screenplay is by Daniel Clowes, adapting his own graphic novel. The director is Craig Johnson, whose last film, 2014’s marvellous The Skeleton Twins, covered similar bittersweet territory. He does a fine job again, extracting every ounce of comedy, but not at the expense of any of the poignancy.

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