Wristcutters: A Love StoryReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/23/07 21:54:40
(Worth A Look)
I talked to the local rep theater's programmer the day after it ran "Wristcutters: A Love Story", and he was glad to hear that at least some of us in the audience liked it, and weren't just clapping to be polite to the special guest. He'd been trying to book the movie for about a year, and had loved it himself, but recognized that he was drawn to this type of dark romantic fantasy than a general audience might be.The idea is extremely high-concept: There's a purgatory, we're told, where the souls of suicides wind up, and in a cruel irony, it's just like the world they left, only worse: It's impossible to smile, there's nothing other than the cast-off and lost objects of the living world to be found, there aren't any stars in the sky. Zia (Patrick Fugit) works in a pizzeria there, and is just passing his days until he finds out that his girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb) also killed herself. He enlists the help of his friend Eugene (Shea Whigham) - who has a car, ableit one with a black hole under the passenger's seat) - to look for her. While on the road, they'll pick up Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a hitch-hiker who thinks she's in the wrong place, and find two very different settlements - a commune run by a friendly sort named Kneller (Tom Waits), and a cult compound run by a would-be Messiah (Will Arnett).
Wristcutters is a road movie, one whose afterlife setting hearkens back to one of the original great road stories, Dante's Divine Comedy. There's also a certain element of The Wizard of Oz in Mikal's quest to find the P.I.C.s (People in Charge) and somehow get back home. Writer/director Goran Dukic doesn't hew too close to those influences, though, nor to the story he adapts (Etgar Keret's "Kneller's Happy Campers"). In some ways, he's not that ambitious: He just wants to illustrate that suicide doesn't solve anything, the same issues will persist whether one is alive or not, and that the possibility of happiness and purpose exists even when they seem impossible.
And they do seem impossible; Dukic and his crew do as fine a job of world-building on a tiny budget as any filmmakers in the last few years. The world Zia has arrived in is vast and empty, and what does exist is as dirty and broken as the place's inhabitants. I don't think it's ever stated that the things Zia and Eugene find by the road are things that the living threw away, but it fits with the thrown-away lives enough for the audience to figure it out naturally. He does point out the inability to smile or see the stars, but they're things that could easily be chalked up to cinematography or performance rather than part of the world otherwise.
Stating that people can't smile also sets up a certain amount of physical comedy, as we watch Shannyn Sossamon contorts her face into a number of grimaces while trying to smile. That's the kind of twisted vibe the film goes for and frequently hits: The collision of the commonplace and bizarre. Some of its gags are plainly outrageous: Zia dropping things into the vortex underneath his seat in the car, or the bizarre method by which Eugene committed suicide. There's also bits that are more satiric, as we see the exaggerated apathy, foolishness and pettiness of a world populated entirely by suicides. Either way, the film is consistently funny, leavening dark subject matter.
That balance of comedy and serious themes is sold by a nice cast. Patrick Fugit is an affable but muted lead, providing the relatively sane center of the film while still giving the impression of someone who has had enough difficulty wrestling with his own issues to be in this world. Shea Whigham is fine contrast, prickly and full of odd mannerisms like constantly calling his family (it's a Russian thing, he says). Sossamon has the tricky task of injecting energy into the movie without smiling or breaking character. It's a tricky role, because as much as we've got to like Mikal and want something to spark between her and one of the boys, she's got to stop a little short so that we're still invested in finding Desiree. Things get interesting when Desiree does show up; Leslie Bibb plays her with an almost desperate intensity. The other pair of opposites are guys playing variatons on their usual personae: Tom Waits, who is as laid-back and charming as, well, Tom Waits; and Will Arnett, who chews the screen with yet another memorable wacko character."Wristcutters" is unabashedly strange, but is also charming and relatable in spite of it. The concept might be a tough sell, but the film is well worth it - even if it's not your usual thing.
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