Friday, March 24, 2017


Opening this week:

WilsonWoody Harrelson plays the title character in this adaptation of the 2010 graphic novel by Daniel Clowes of Ghost World fame. Wilson is long divorced and all but friendless, and it's not hard to see why—he's appallingly socially inappropriate, cheerfully making unsolicited, often bluntly insulting pronouncements to total strangers as he galumphs around Minneapolis. He lives over a karate school, in a small apartment cluttered with popular paperback novels—including, for some reason, two copies of QB VII—and alienates almost everybody he meets.

His only companion is his little dog Pepper—Umberto D is seen on a movie marquee, and Pepper looks very much like Umberto's dog Flike in that film. But when Wilson, even more emotionally adrift than usual after the death of his distant father, tries to broaden his social circle a bit, he reconnects with his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern), a recovering addict, and their dour seventeen-year-old daughter Claire (Isabella Amara) that she gave up for adoption after leaving him. Finding himself the head of this forlorn little family unit gives him a sudden giddy, reckless euphoria.

Chaos ensues, both hilarious and painful. Hilarious because of Harrelson's delivery; he makes Wilson's unfiltered assertions rude yet bright and outgoing and friendly (not to mention that he often seems right on the money). He genuinely wants people to benefit from his perspectives, and his smiling manner suggests a congenial warmth and intimacy, as if to say ''no need to thank me."

It's painful because of his utter obliviousness, not only to the offense he gives but to his atrocious bad judgement and its consequences. The rambling story, which covers years, takes turns that are completely unpredictable, yet entirely and cringe-inducingly believable. Director Craig Johnson (of The Skeleton Twins), working from a script by Clowes, unfolds the narrative cleanly and gets strong acting not only from Harrelson but from Dern, Amara, Judy Greer, Cheryl Hines and others.

Not everything about Wilson works, even on its own cracked terms. A couple of scenes that escalate into slapstick violence seem forced and overbearing. And as it progresses, the movie seems to invite us to laugh at Wilson's intolerable behavior at the same time it's asking us to recognize his very real pain in a way that makes our laughter feel ungenerous. But even this response, though possibly unintentional, makes the film complex and interesting.

Personal ShopperBy day, our heroine Maureen works in the title capacity for a famous fashionista in Paris. Maureen’s twin brother Lewis has recently died, and so she’s taken to staying in the beautiful house he shared with his girlfriend by night, in hopes of receiving word from The Great Beyond—she’s a medium, as was he.

Eventually Maureen sees some fairly goosebump-raising ghostly manifestations, and she also starts receiving disturbing, provocative texts on her phone, and wonders if they might have a paranormal origin. Then matters take a more sinister turn.

It’s all very cool and chic and sexy and ambiguous and European. Writer-director Olivier Assayas manages to get Kristen Stewart, who plays Maureen, into some of the haute fashion items she’s been sent to fetch, and also out of them, which does no harm to the picture’s marketability.

But it should also be said that Personal Shopper transcends mere glossy glamour. Stewart comes to life here in a way that I haven’t seen from her in the past. Assayas gets past the blank, slightly slack-jawed quality she showed in the Twilight movies and finds a directness and a sullen, skittish bravery that’s quite touching. She’s in almost every scene of the picture, and she carries it convincingly.

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