"I guess this whole kidnapping thing makes me a little uncomfortable, Wilson."
Daniel Clowes's Wilson first appeared in 2010. The graphic novel may be his best since the groundbreaking Ghost World and, like Ghost World, it received a film adaptation.
The story concerns a garrulous, misanthropic, socially inappropriate loner's attempts to reconnect with his ex-wife and the daughter he never knew. These efforts go horribly awry, with darkly comic results. You know you shouldn't laugh at the horror unfolding, but you do.
The original graphic novel took considerable inspiration from the newspaper funnies of yore, though Clowes depicts events they never would have allowed. Old-time readers will recognize the format, however. Wilson presents its protagonist's tale in a series of single-page strips, each ending with a punchline or reflective moment. Collectively, however, they tell the story of one man's life. Gaps between sections are a part of the source material-- almost as if, as Clowes has explained, it really had been a daily strip and some installments went missing. In this way Wilson extends the use of the gutter, the space between comic panels wherein so much occurs by suggestion.
As in some of Clowes' other works, the art regularly changes style, from comic-book realism to clean-line stylization to cartoony exaggerations. While these reflect the tones of the different installments, I found the visual shifts jarring.
Clowes' strong point has always been the ability to create complex, believable characters out of two-dimensional drawings. You probably won't like Wilson, but you will recognize and believe in him. Thoreau wrote in Walden that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." Wilson's saving grace is that he shares that in common with the mass of men.
Those around him, however, may wish he were a trifle quieter about his desperation.
In March of 2017, the movie adaptation appeared, albeit sparingly, in theatres. Craig Johnson directed; Clowes penned the script, with some input from the director. The first Clowes film adaptation, Ghost World, became a critical sensation, a hit home rental (and, later, download), and helped launch Scarlett Johansson's career. Wilson has been less well-received, but it's a competent adaptation of the source material, with much to recommend it.
Some of Wilson's most socially inappropriate moments work brilliantly onscreen, and Woody Harrelson's performance makes him a more likeable character than his paper counterpart. As I said, I could feel for the graphic novel's version of Wilson, but I couldn't really like him. The movie version is someone I can (with some reluctance) get behind. The other principals, Laura Dern as Wilson's estranged wife and Isabella Amara as Claire, their moody, long-lost daughter and unintended kidnapping victim, both give strong performances.
Significant changes have been made to the source material, though many of the gaps remain. These work less effectively onscreen; I would have liked a better sense of Wilson's critical transformation in the prison section of the film. Overall, however, Wilson is a far better film than its reputation suggests. The changes result in a less offensive protagonist with a more hopeful journey, though one still touched by darkness and cynicism.
And, perhaps, someone who resembles us more than we'd like to admit.
Woody Harrelson as Wilson
Laura Dern as Pippi
Isabella Amara as Claire
Judy Greer as Shelly
Cheryl Hines as Polly
Margo Martindale as Alta
David Warshofsky as Orson
Brett Gelman as Robert
Mary Lynn Rajskub as Jodie
Lauren Weedman as Cat Lady
Greta Oglesby as Belinda
Bruce Bohne as Karl
Shaun Brown as Laptop Man
Brett Gelman as Robert
Toussaint Morrison as Diego
Richard Ooms as Edwin
James Saito as Warren Kudo
Miles Strommen as Aidan
Jackson Bond as Rocky
Bill McCallum as Will
Alec George as Cooper
Peter Moore as Cassiday