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Based on a graphic novel, ‘Wilson’ lacks edge, humor

March 23, 2017 GMT

Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is the kind of guy you’d cross the street to avoid. No stranger is safe from his eager attempts to start a conversation or his total obliviousness to social boundaries. But he’s desperate to make some new friends.

Only his ex-wife, Pippi (Laura Dern), can understand what makes Wilson tick, largely because they’re more of a match than she’d like to admit. Yet she’s not entirely comfortable with welcoming him back into her life — especially when he becomes obsessed with connecting with the daughter she gave up for adoption. The daughter that he didn’t know he had.

Her name is Claire (Isabella Amara), and she’s just the kind of teenage outcast that the child of Wilson and Pippi would have to be. But her very existence fills Wilson with an unfamiliar emotion: hope. Not only had he never dreamed of being a dad, but he didn’t realize how much that would mean to him. With Pippi in tow, Wilson loses no time in reaching out to Claire.

The three get along surprisingly well, but that doesn’t make them a family. And when it comes to Wilson, it’s hard to shake the feeling that things will end badly.

Based on a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, “Wilson” is neither as funny nor as edgy as it might have been. Working from a screenplay by Clowes, director Craig Johnson (“The Skeleton Twins”) struggles to maintain the irreverent tone of the material and unfortunately slips into sentimentality. The film is likely to disappoint fans of “Ghost World” (2001), which was also based on a Clowes book.

But Harrelson (“Now You See Me”) is perfectly cast as Wilson, persuasively capturing the character’s blend of social awkwardness and barely suppressed hostility. And Dern (“Big Little Lies”) is at her best as his reluctant accomplice.

“Wilson” isn’t a bad film, but it could have used less melodrama and a lot more insight.

What “Wilson” • 2½ stars out of four • Run time 1:34 • Rating R • Content Language and sexuality