Woody Harrelson stars as the title character in this week’s new release Wilson. The movie is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Daniel Clowes, the writer behind the original Ghost World and other stories. This one follows Wilson, an affable and friendly middle-aged guy who has a tendency to frankly speak his mind in an often uncomfortable way.

One day he finds out he has a daughter who’s now a teenager. His estranged wife Pippi (Laura Dern), it seems, had the baby after she’d left him and didn’t tell him about her. So he embarks on a road trip to reconnect with Pippi and get to know the daughter he never knew about. That sounds a lot more idyllic than reality winds up being, of course, and Wilson’s blunt style isn’t all that compatible with being a loving, compassionate father and husband.

The Posters

The first and only poster makes it clear just how uncomfortable Wilson can make people. It shows him standing at a urinal rights next to another guy and actually looking at him, as if he’s trying to make conversation and thus violating at least two tenets of men’s room etiquette. “He’s a people person” we’re told in the copy floating over his head. It nicely sells the broad version of the character being someone who doesn’t have a lot in the way of internal filters. And the simple color design of the wall he’s standing in front along with the title treatment is a nice nod to the story’s graphic novel origins.

The Trailers

We meet the title character in the first trailer, a red-band version, as he’s messing with a kid on a bus ride. Narration explains that he’s a man who just wants to be understood, but it’s clear he’s more than a little socially awkward. One day he finds out he has a daughter he never knew about with his ex-wife and when he confronts her about it the two go out and stalk her. That goes less than smoothly, of course, and the rest of the trailer shows Wilson continues to be his own worst enemy.

There’s a lot to like here. Dern looks fantastic and there’s a good supporting cast. But let’s be honest, this may just be the result of following Harrelson around over the course of a few days and seeing what happens to him. This may not be fiction, is what I’m saying.

A second trailer that debuted just before Sundance hit many of the same or similar beats. There are a few things rearranged here and there but it’s the same message being conveyed.

Online and Social

The Fox Searchlight official website for the movie. The key art at the top of the page has buttons to “Watch Trailer” and “Get Tickets.”

Scroll down the page and the first section there is “Videos,” which has both of the trailers as well as what appears to be a TV spot and a short clip. “Story” has a brief synopsis of the story and then there’s a short biography of Clowes in order to give the creator a shoutout.

“Social” has a few graphics you can share on your social media with just a few clicks. Finally “Photos” has a selection of stills.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

A TV spot that was found on the official website dispensed with the story for the most part and just focused on Wilson’s tendency to speak his mind and often put his foot in his mouth. It’s funny and certainly makes the case for a strong, loose performance by Harrelson but that’s about it.

Media and Publicity

Well after the trailer was released it was announced the movie would premiere at Sundance 2017. While there Dern and others from the cast and crew talked about the experience of working on the movie, what drew them to the story and more.

Woody Harrelson as “Wilson” in the film WILSON.
Photo by Kimberly Simms. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

There was a profile of Clowes that allowed the author to talk about creating the original and the difference between the source graphic novel and the movie version. He also talked about casting Harrelson and more. Dern and Harrelson, as well as Judy Greer and Cheryl Hines, made the talk show rounds to promote the movie and continue talking about it. Much of the coverage with Dern and Harrelson, though, wound up revolving around their respective roles in upcoming Star Wars movies.

Overall

The campaign largely relies on the goofy hangdog charm of Harrelson to provide its most consistent and significant value proposition. That makes sense since he’s the star but it also means that the story is sometimes pushed to the background to more fully emphasize the antics Wilson finds himself engaging in, many of which are presented without context or explanation. Indeed it seems like there’s a lot of what’s on display here is a series of disparate parts, with little connective material.

So the press appeal has been targeted at those who made movies like American Splendor and Ghost World into cult hits, hoping this one falls into the same category. The campaign as a whole wants to sell the movie as an affable, low-key story about a well-meaning guy who just can’t seem to get out of his own way in many things. It’s being pitched to audiences as a no-frills comedy that may not has a lot to say that’s wholly original but which might be kind of charming if you give it a chance, just like the title character.

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