Hate movies about characters who hate everything? So does ‘Wilson,’ which keeps hitting you with new surprises

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Movies about malcontents and curmudgeons can get real old, real quick. Characters who hate everything, just like people who hate everything, are exhausting to be around and draining to the soul.

“Wilson” could easily fall into that trap, but never does. Director Craig Johnson (“The Skeleton Twins”), working from a script by Daniel Clowes (“Ghost World”) based on his own graphic novel about a wayward grouch, gives the story the right balance of humor and heart so that it never becomes burdensome or mean-spirited.

That’s also thanks in large part to Woody Harrelson, who plays the title character as out-of-step with the times (he detests technology) but full of empathy and curiosity for the world around him. He’s the kind of guy who’ll sit down next to you on an empty bus, partially to annoy you, but mostly because he wants to hear your story.

In “Wilson,” you’re never quite sure where that story will take you, but it sure is a fun ride. Wilson hooks up with his ex-wife Pippi (an excellent Laura Dern, playing wonderfully miserable) whom he hasn’t seen in 17 years, and learns he has a child with her. Together they decide to look up their daughter, Claire (Isabella Amara), and that sends “Wilson” on a wild journey that a lesser script couldn’t support.

But “Wilson” works, scoring big laughs and maintaining its soul throughout. Like Wilson himself, the movie is a bit of a throwback, out-of-step with the times, but whimsical in its execution. And it never goes for cheap sentimentality, because Wilson wouldn’t, and the movie has the good sense to be true to its character. It’s got his name on it for a reason.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Wilson’

GRADE: B+

Rated R: for language throughout and some sexuality

Running time: 101 minutes

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