WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY
Director/Screenwriter: Goran Dukic (based on the novella by Etgar Keret)
Executive Producer: Jonathan Schwartz
Producers: Chris Coen, Tatiana Kelly, Mikal P. Lazarev, Adam Sherman
Cast: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, Shea Wigham, Tom Waits, Leslie Bibb
Sony HD Cam
U.S.A., 2006, 91 min.
*Suicide is no ordinary death, but in Wristcutters: A Love Story, it provides entry into a quirky, quotidian universe that's both strangely familiar and full of surprises. It's an afterlife of menial jobs, dingy bars, and jukeboxes that play only suicide heroes like Kurt Cobain or Nick Drake. And as Zia, a depressed but amiable young man, discovers after he slits his wrists, it's populated solely by unsmiling souls who have voluntarily plunged to the other side. Soon after his arrival, Zia learns that his ex–the inspiration for his own fatal gesture–has also joined the hari-kari club. Still heartsick, he sets out to find her.
With him on this Oz-like quest are an eccentric Russian rocker lusting for love and a melancholic, hitchhiking ingenue seeking a way out. In a rickety red station wagon held together with tape, this impromptu family hit greasy diners and decrepit salvage yards until they encounter odd, wonderful Kneller (a deliciously crusty Tom Waits), who shepherds them to his utopia and small, unexpected miracles. Every turn in the road holds witty and poignant revelations for the lovable characters in Goran Dukic's clever, irresistible, and wildly original debut feature. He transplants his Eastern European absurdist humor and existential worldview to the dusty American West and comes up with a small miracle of his own.
*Summary by Caroline Libresco, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
This film was a wonderful surprise. I went in expecting depression and blodd and instead found a whimsical, creative, and weird road trip movie that has a heart as well. It is not manipulative like some 'concept' films can be, but tart and homely, much like the Tom Waits music that defines so much of this picture. The film starts with the interesting notion that there is a special afterlife for those who have committed suicide, represented by the wastelands of the California deserts and urban industrial parks. Zia, Mikal, and Eugene drive around the desert, each looking for their own fulfillment. I like the fact that this suicide afterlife is not necessarily a depressingly bad place. It's just barren and nowhere, but its nice that the beauty of the landscapes can still exist in that space. The summary above compares the three leads' quest to an Oz-like journey, and I think that's correct. Like Oz, the suicide's afterlife has a code of rules which one must follow, and an air of magic that exists as well. For instance, no matter how hard one tries, one can never smile in this place, and one has to look out for the literal black hole that exists under the passenger side seat in the trio's red station wagon.
I loved these little touches, especially the small miracles that would happen (as Shannyn Sossamon's character expressed it) only when the character didn't think about them. Even though Tom Waits' commune of misfits was fun, I felt the pace flagging during these scenes and during the utopia celebration scene. I think the film can still be tightened up around those moments. The acting is appropriately odd and interesting. I actually didn't care too much for Shea Wigham's character, Eugene. I felt he was just a typical sidekick role. However, I was fascinated by the developing relationship between Patrick Fugit's slowly-awakening Zia, and Shannyn Sossamon's nymph-like Mikal. They are a beautiful and fun couple and their relationship leads up to an ending that I thought was a perfect non-verbal moment of hope and love. It is nice to see a movie about suicide, hopelessness, and irony end with such a heartfelt message of acceptance and possibility.
This film may not be for everyone; it does take the topic of suicide for granted, and plays around with the consequences of that action. Some might find this cavalier attitude offensive. I found that attitude liberating, a daring way to look at such an ugly topic. Instead of wagging a finger and preaching to the audience, the director approached suicide with humor and heart, creating a far more compelling argument against suicide than a hundred social service messages. Not a grand or epic film, Wristcutters is a small, bumbling road trip movie that grows on you with every passing second. It isn't until the final scene that you realize how wonderful the journey was.