Have you ever wondered where all of those people who cut themselves, jump off rooftops, drive headfirst into oncoming traffic and pull the trigger with a rifle in their mouth go? If you're religious, then the answer is probably Hell, but if you're writer/director Goran Dukic, the result is actually more along the lines of a dull, rustic, Nevada desert.
Wristcutters: A Love Story is a look at the purgatory that exists for those who kill themselves. There's no God and there's no Satan; there's just drab, nearly deserted towns, depressing people, lots of desert and not much to do. After Zia, played by Patrick Fugit, slits his wrists in the beginning of the movie, he finds himself in such a place. He gets an uninspiring job and meets uninspiring people, until he meets Eugene (Shea Whigham), a Russian suicide case who followed the rest of his family to this God-forsaken place. The two strike up a friendship and, when Zia discovers that his ex-girlfriend committed suicide a month after he did, they set out on the road to find her. Instead, they find Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a hitchhiker looking for a way back to the world of the living.
Wristcutters is an entertaining little piece of filmwork. It isn't laugh-out-loud funny, nor is it as quirky as it could have been, but Dukic balances all of its little elements well enough. There's nothing exceptional about the writing or directing, but the blandness actually plays to the film's flavor, considering that the movie is about a dreary world where no one can smile. The movie could have been a lot better and is not without its flaws, but its pace is steady enough to keep you interested in what will happen next.
The cast really makes the film. Fugit, who I liked in Saved!, is great as Zia. He brings an earthy charm to his character and makes it very easy for the audience to connect with him. Sossamon makes for a good romantic interest, not only because she's hot but because she also shares the sarcastic wit that Fugit seems to pull off with ease. Whigham, the least recognizable actor in the main cast, is the funniest actor of the group; he reminded me of, and even looks a lot like, Steve Zahn.
I loved the concept of Wristcutters, but just wish it could have been executed a little better. There are some funny parts, especially scenes involving the black hole that exists under a car seat (I've never seen such a weird, random gag work so well so many times throughout a film), and overall, the whole idea of the story works in the movie's favor, but there are times where you feel Dukic could have done a bit more with things. The movie really falls apart in the last 15 minutes or so; I really didn't like the ending. First, things just get weird for the sake of being weird; Zia finally finds his ex-girlfriend but Dukic forgets to add any conflict or resolution to the characters; and the ending seemed a bit too Ghost Dad for my liking. Thankfully, the ending doesn't kill the film, but a strong ending could have really taken the movie up a notch.
All in all, I liked Wristcutters and would recommend it to people who like offbeat, quirky comedies, but one can't help to wonder if this movie could have been a bit better.
Review by Robert Bell (A)
It's not often that the cheerful subject matter of suicide manifests itself on celluloid. Having been more famously handled in films like Ordinary People and Night, Mother, it is often relegated to subplots and treated with little insight. While hopelessness, loss, psychic pain, and a general lack of interest are often symptoms of suicide, it is difficult to really determine the motivations behind the desire to be alone for all time without experiencing it firsthand. Quite frankly, it's not something that a lot of people want to think about or really explore, preferring to shop for handbags and watch the latest home renovation show.
Wristcutters: A Love Story makes a choice early on to not delve into suicide with great depth. Like the underrated "Virgin Suicides" it presents the circumstances around the act without claiming to understand it. This is probably a smart choice from an audience connection standpoint. Oddly enough, Wristcutters works as kind of a melancholy, feel good, romantic comedy. The film manages to be quirky without being pretentious, which is a difficult balance.
Zia (Patrick Fugit) wakes up one morning, fully cleans his apartment, and slashes his wrists in the bathroom sink. Unfortunately, this isn't the end of things for Zia. He wakes up in an afterlife that greatly resembles his current life only "slightly crappier". It's a washed out grayish world where no one can smile and all the inhabitants have committed suicide.
Zia eventually befriends Russian cynical Rock Star Eugene (Shea Whigham) whose entire family committed suicide leaving them intact in the afterlife. Word comes in that a past love from Zia's living life, Desiree (Leslie Bibb) has offed herself recently and is somewhere in this dreary newfound world. Zia and Eugene set off to find Desiree in a crapbox car with a bizarre, unexplained black hole under the passenger seat.
It isn't long before they stumble across a gum-chewing hitchhiker with a penchant for amusing political vandalism, Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), with whom Zia strikes up a connection.
Croatian-born writer/director Goran Dukic has brought a dry humour and melancholic tone to Wristcutters: A Love Story. While the film is often bizarre, it stays grounded with believable connections and logical reactions to unexplained phenomena. There is an aesthetic appeal to the film throughout that assists in maintaining the necessary somber tone. Discarded couches, makeshift huts, and deserted landscapes add to the nomadic isolation these characters rightfully feel in their suicidal endeavors.
One of the greatest strengths of this film is the understated performances from the three leads and solid writing to back them up. Dukic has fleshed out three fully realized people whose connections and interactions are believable from the getgo. It makes the dark subject matter, and "Wizard of Oz" journey that much more palatable and cathartic. Sossamon is surprisingly strong here. Having recently starred in crap like One Missed Call and the dreadful Catacombs, it is nice to see her take on a role that requires a bit of range. She plays sassy and disappointed well in Wristcutters and is entirely likable. Whigham does a good job playing the tactless Russian horndog, garnering the majority of the laughs in the film. Holding it all together is Patrick Fugit, who mixes deep sadness with youthful optimism rather effectively.
Wristcutters won't be for everyone. It is a slow and often bizarre film that can really only be compared to the little seen Arizona Dream. It is however, a gem of a film that deserves some recognition for being a fully realized and emotionally true indie feature.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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