Friday, November 2, 2007
opens with what proves to be its best scene, one that could stand alone as a brilliant short subject. As the titles roll, Zia (Patrick Fugit), a young man, slowly and methodically cleans his messy apartment. He appears to be ready to make a new start of things. Once that last item is put away and the final bit of dust swept up, Zia heads to the bathroom to neatly slit his wrists and carefully bleed directly into the sink. As he falls to the floor, he's annoyed to find one last dust bunny in the corner of the bathroom that he missed. Not even in death can things go right for Zia. He dies only to wake up in an afterlife way station reserved for those who commit suicide. This world is much like the one he left, which prompts him to conclude who could think of a worse punishment, everything's the same, only worse. After hanging out in this drab, monotonous limbo for a while, Zia considers killing himself again, but hesitates when he decides he could end up in an even worse place.
Looking for the PIC in Wristcutters (Autonomous Films)
But Zia's not alone in this suicide hell. He meets Eugene (Shea Whigham), a loud, abrasive, yet oddly endearing Russian whose whole family has offed themselves in order to be together forever. There's also a beautiful young woman, Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who is in search of the PIC (People in Charge) because she insists she is in this odd state of limbo by mistake. Zia also discovers that the woman he killed himself over may have also offed herself. So Zia, Eugene and Mikal take off on a road trip to seek their individual destinies, but of course, they will all get sidetracked.
Adapted from Etgar Keret's Knellers Happy Campers by writer-director Goran Dukic, Wristcutters: A Love Story aspires to cult status and hip appeal. At times, as in the inspired opening, it achieves both. But the main problem with the film is that it's a short film idea dragged out to feature length. The whimsy and cleverness wears thin after about a half hour and the piling on of eccentric characters grows wearisome as well. A whole Jonestown-like cult scenario plays out with forced significance but not much real interest. In addition, the film tries too hard with gags, such as a literal black hole under the seat of Eugenes car -- where anything that falls there immediately vanishes. Quirkiness needs to comes with less effort.
The proud owner of a black hole. Wristcutters (Autonomous Films)
But performers Fugit, Whigham and Sossamon prove appealing and almost make us care about what's happening long after the film gets stretched far too thin. Tom Waits makes a late appearance as Kneller, a man who seems to defy the drudgery of all around him to create a little oasis of magic. Wristcutters did call to mind another film that dealt with the afterlife concept, the Japanese film After Life . That film created a way station where the dead received counseling (from others who were dead) and were told they could take one memory with them into eternity. That film created a finely detailed afterlife that didn't strive for eccentricity, but rather for genuine emotion. Wristcutters could have learned a little about graceful storytelling from that exquisite film.
Filmmaker Dukic creates a visually drab afterlife that looks like a duller, shabbier version of the real world. He has an occasional eye for detail, such as the Hunger Strike dinner. But he doesn't do as much as he could with the idea that everyone bears the mark of their particular suicide. But he could have done more to make this parallel universe better defined. And Mikal's search for the people in charge doesn't quite make sense -- if she didn't mean to kill herself, but ended up dead, why would that get her sent back to the real world? Shouldn't it just get her removed from suicide hell and sent to some other heavenly or not so heavenly locale?
Dukic does reveal an "ear" for detail as well by having music from people who committed suicide -- including Ian Curtis of Joy Division, Del Shannon and Screaming Lord Sutch -- filling the soundtrack. That's a nice subtle touch.
Wristcutters: A Love Story (rated R for language and disturbing content involving suicide) has racked up a number of festival awards including one at Sundance. It definitely has a low-budget, indie feel, but I wish they had simply taken the best elements, discarded the mediocre ones and settled for a tightly made short subject.
Companion viewing: After Life, Made in Heaven, Harold and Maude, Dead Like Me (cable series), Repo Man, Bleach, YuYu Hakusho