The beginning marks the beginning of the end: A middle-aged man rouses from sleep, about to face another day of accosting and insulting strangers. He hates people but needs them, too. His voice-over kicks in, a peroration that opens with a bid for camaraderie ("Remember when we were kids and life was all there in front of us?") and concludes with the unassailable logic of the Holden Caulfield school of philosophy ("Civilization is a scam"). This is our introduction to Wilson, the latest iteration of the redeemed-curmudgeon comedy, and to Wilson (Woody Harrelson), whose dull-witted misanthropy, fatiguing from first minute to last, will, for some viewers, further confirm their misandry.
The film, directed by Craig Johnson and scripted by Daniel Clowes, adapting his 2010 graphic novel, is replete with spatial and tonal incoherence. Why is this bearded, bespectacled man in Dockers and short-sleeve oxford shirts so angry? Could his contempt and superciliousness be rooted in his obsessive investment in pop-culture esoterica, as was the case with the cranky north-of-40 record collector played by Steve Buscemi in Ghost World (2001), the first of Clowes' comics to be transferred to the screen? No, for Wilson has no interests other than his dog, a wire fox terrier named Pepper, the movie's sole source of charm.
Inevitably, his generic disgruntlement will soften: Amerindie dyspeptic-comedy formula dictates that the man who rants two times too many against the addiction to phones and the internet will, by film's end, have a heart-stirring video chat. But on the way to this certainty, Wilson becomes a mass of straggly plot strands, instigated by the grumpy guy’s reunion with his ex-wife, Pippi (Laura Dern, horribly misused).