Wristcutters cuts to the bone of bleak comedy

by Beacon Staff • October 31, 2007

There's definitely something unsettling about the word "wristcutters" in Wristcutters: A Love Story. It's so blunt that unknowing moviegoers might think they are about to step into a depressing documentary. But this isn't a story about a collective group of skin-slashers-in fact, there is only one wristcutter in the main group of characters. However, the rest of the title is accurate; this really is just a lighthearted, and sometimes cheesy, love story.

Writer/director Goran Dukic's zany dark comedy, based on Israeli author Etgar Keret's short story "Kneller's Happy Campers," takes a comical look at what happens to someone after he "offs" himself. Stuck in a purgatory state where no one smiles, people who have committed suicide find themselves in a world that's worse than the one they wanted to get away from. The difference there is that no one seems to care.

Everyone bears scars from their successful suicides. Those who choose a revolver as their way to leave earth have the bullet's exit wound to prove it; wrist slitters are pale with marks on the inside of their arms. The main character, Zia (Patrick Fugit), kills himself for love, by-you guessed it-cutting his wrists. Zia quickly finds himself in a world where everything is worse and slightly distorted, just like his reflection in the warped mirror he looks into every morning.

Zia's new life seems miserable until he finds out that his ex-girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb) offed herself as well, and Zia drags new Russian rocker friend Eugene (a hilarious, yet one-dimensional, Shea Whigham) on a road trip to find Desiree. Random flashbacks of Zia's old life show scenes of him and Desiree on a beach -truly the mark of a happy relationship-that don't really convince you that Zia was better when he was with her.

Along the way, Zia and Eugene pick up the beautiful Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a hitchhiker who has no destination in particular, and the quirky trio set off. The scenes with the three in the car include all the elements of a bad road trip: headlights that don't work, a black hole under the passenger seat that eats sunglasses, and unnecessarily long stops at random places like Kneller's camp, a big shack in the woods full of hippies, mutes and random miracles, ruled by odd mother-hen Kneller (Tom Waits). Kneller's camp introduces quirky new characters that are interesting in the beginning, and while it's intended to further the story it only seems to weigh it down as the movie plows forward.

Mikal's plotline is the most promising, yet brings to light some of the more logistical flaws of the film. Mikal is the Dorothy in this Oz; she's in purgatory by mistake and she is looking desperately for a way out. Her constant search for the person in charge forces the viewer to think about the laws of this land. Why do people bother working? Do they need money? Who does the random policeman we meet report to? How does anyone understand or know how they got from there to here?

The film unsatisfactorily attempts to solve some of these problems towards the end, leaving you wishing that Mikal hadn't brought them up in the first place. Mikal's frustration is justified, making her the most sympathetic character in the film. Sossamon is lovely as Mikal, brightening up the scenes even without flashing her big smile, bringing a much- needed charge to the quiet Zia.

Fugit displays the same angst and blank facial expressions that were so charming in his breakthrough role in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, but there is the sense that there isn't very much to Zia beyond that. There does seem to be a natural chemistry between Mikal and Zia, and the film is all the better because of it.

Wristcutters is best when it successfully tackles real-life problems: why a person chooses suicide, and how a person can unexpectedly fall in love.

Where it falls short is firmly establishing the setting. While this purgatory world provides an offbeat backdrop and plenty of opportunities for humor, the ending causes you to question the entire premise of a film that was bumping along to begin with. But if you take this film as it is and don't question anything, you will leave the theatre feeling moderately satisfied, maybe even pleased at the film's outcome. Just don't take the time to think too much about it.