Wristcutters: A Love Story (U.S., 2006) * * *
D: Goran Dukic
The irresistible idea behind Wristcutters: A Love Story--derived from the short story "Kneller's Happy Campers," by Etgar Keret--is that if you commit suicide, you're delivered into a world exactly like the one you just left, except slightly worse. It's a gray-skied, rubbish heap of a world, where no colors are too bright, most things are broken, and no one can smile. I mean, literally: no one has the ability to smile. In the film's prologue--one of the sharpest sequences--Zia (Patrick Fugit) cleans up his apartment rigorously in preparation to slitting his wrists but, as he lies on the floor in a pool of blood, losing consciousness, he notices one giant dust bunny in the corner. Then he dies. Now stranded in this afterlife, he works in a dismal pizzeria serving fellow suicides while Joy Division plays on the radio, and he continues to pine after his girlfriend, Desiree (Leslie Bibb). He finally meets a couple of pretty girls, but another customer, with a 70's-style mustache and cap, plus a guttural Eastern European accent, frightens them away; nevertheless, Eugene (an excellent Shea Wigham) quickly becomes Zia's friend-in-misery, and the two plot a road trip across the desert in Eugene's car, which has a black hole at the foot of the passenger seat. A real black hole: a tear in the cosmos. But that's less important to Eugene than the fact that the headlights won't work. Shortly they pick up a hitchhiker, Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who thinks she's here by mistake, and wants to find a way to contact the authorities. Only no one knows who the authorities are, or who runs the place. That's one of the mysteries--there are white-suited cops who write tickets and arrest people for misdemeanors. Another is why, at a little camp run by a man named Kneller (Tom Waits), minor miracles happen, such as levitating matches and fish-color-changing. Another is what would happen if you tried to commit suicide again.
But none of these mysteries carry very much weight: when you occupy this purgatory, it seems your natural curiosity is blunted along with your enthusiasm for anything else. Our droll, unsmiling heroes make observations, look for Zia's girl, stumble into strange characters, and sing along to the tapes made by Eugene's old band. This is a road movie in the vein of early Wim Wenders, although the straight-faced bursts of whimsy seem more inspired by his later work. It is intermittently a very funny film, but for the most part it settles for being pleasant, comfortable--like a neglected, moth-eaten sweater retrieved from the back of the closet. It does get bogged down in "plot" when Will Arnett (of "Arrested Development") turns up late in the game as a cult leader, and I'm not exactly sure just what John Hawkes (You and Me and Everyone We Know) is doing in this film--nor does he, apparently--but these flaws are not serious. I like the bit about Eugene's family, all of whom have committed suicide, in a bizarre chain of events. Patrick Fugit is an appealing lead, as he was in Almost Famous, although it's perverse to cast him in a film where he can't rely upon his broad, innocent smile. I like the rhythm, and the simple, low-key gags. And since this is not a "quirky new fantasy-comedy-drama from ABC/HBO/Showtime," no formula is settled upon, and it's allowed a neat, nice ending. The film is completely improbable, with astounding coincidences and miraculous twists, but the story embraces them, and follows its own flickering match, last seen spinning weightless into the night sky.