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*** (out of five)

Let’s just take a moment to recognise how marvellous a screen actor Woody Harrelson is. He’s tremendous. He knows how to build an indelible character, how to spin a line, how to fill the screen. His technique is impeccable. And, like many of the best screen actors, there is something about him that is uniquely him. His slate of roles is fantastically diverse, but he also also brings the Woody. Tall and leading-man handsome yet totally capable of playing “character” parts, he’s part of a circle that – for me at least – includes thespians like Stanley Tucci, the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Billy Bob Thornton.

All those actors would have had a great crack at Wilson, but Woody got it, and he makes it his own. An eventful, melancholic character study based on Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel (Clowes also wrote the screenplay), it offers a hearty meal for an actor and Woody happily feasts. He’s terrific, and would probably be in Awards conversations next year if the film weren’t so modest.

Wilson’s a curmudgeon, a recluse, and perhaps a little imbalanced. He lives with his beloved dog and as few electronic devices as possible in a house in need of a good clean. When his dad dies, it sends Wilson off on a journey that sees him connect with his ex-wife and the two of them with their grown-up daughter.

This is one of those graphic novel adaptations (like Clowes’ own 2001 Ghost World) that kind of lives in its own hermetic universe. Not to say that there are superheroes or aliens (there certainly aren’t either) but that the houses are all colourful (it was shot in Twin Cities, MN but seems to be set in the Pacific Northwest of the US), the people are all quirky and everything is a little timeless. It’s stylised, but in a vague way – you just kind of know it as you’re seeing it.

The film has many, many gags that fall flat, but there are also some true zingers. Harrelson and co-stars Laura Dern and Judy Greer are excellent. And the plot is truly, refreshingly loose and unformulaic, rambling from one situation to another like a dim puppy. It’s almost instantly forgettable, but it’s never not engaging as it plays.

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