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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wilson is an edgy dark comedy based on a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. It centers on a character (played by Woody Harrelson) who's foul-mouthed, temperamental, and sometimes mean but also forever hopeful about the goodness of people and family. Language is the biggest issue; it's extreme and constant and includes every four-letter word imaginable. There's a knock-down fight scene between two sisters, as well as a few scenes of Wilson being beaten up in prison. He's smashed in the head with a metal tray, and wounds and bruises are shown. In addition to strong sexual innuendo, there's a non-graphic sex scene between Wilson and a woman, and he's later shown lying in bed with a different woman. A secondary character is said to be a recovering addict; some social drinking is shown, and drugs are mentioned.
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What's the story?
In WILSON, Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is a dog-lover and something of an outspoken optimist: He expects the best in human behavior and is outraged when he doesn't get it. His life is changed when his father takes a turn for the worse, and Wilson begins to despair about leaving the planet with nothing to show for it. But then fate re-introduces him to Pippi (Laura Dern), the ex-wife he's never quite forgotten. He then discovers that she once had a daughter whom she gave up for adoption. They find the now-teenage Claire (Isabella Amara), who has 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.
Is it any good?
Like Daniel Clowes' earlier Ghost World, this adaptation of his 2010 graphic novel is filled with vulgar, adult humor -- but it's also extremely funny, truthful, and touching. Though the book version of Wilson was often difficult to like, in the movie, he's kind of a cynical optimist, expecting the best of people but outraged when he doesn't get it. Thanks in part to Harrelson's nuanced performance, 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. In addition to Harrelson, 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' comic work, creating a world both ridiculous and warm. It's a subtly complex movie, and though the outcome is still a little dark, Wilson is ultimately hopeful.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Wilson's violent moments. Are the "beating up" scenes funny or shocking? How different is the impact when death enters into the story?
Does the movie use any stereotypes? Does it play into them or undermine them?
How does the movie handle Pippi's past with drug use and drinking? Does it sympathize with her? Does it judge her?
Is Wilson hopeful or cynical? Does he see the best or the worst in people? What makes him a sympathetic character?
- In theaters: March 24, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: June 20, 2017
- Cast: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Isabella Amara
- Director: Craig Johnson
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout and some sexuality
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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