- Rated R
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All photos © Lions Gate Films
Reviewed by Bob Westal
t one point or another, just about everyone imagines committing suicide; after all, it’s the most obvious way to completely escape from life’s problems. Well, that just won’t work if you happen to end up in the afterlife posited in Goran Dukic’s darkly good-natured black comedy.
Based on a story by Israeli author Etgar Karet, “Wristcutters” brings us Patrick Fugit (“Almost Famous”) as Zia, a New Jersey slacker who, after being dumped by his girlfriend (Leslie Bibb), slashes his wrists…only to find himself in an alternate universe populated by fellow suicides. Not so much hell, or limbo, but a reasonable facsimile of Barstow, Ca., it’s a world of go-nowhere McJobs, excessive heat, and chronic, functional depression where people can make jokes but no one is able to smile, and relationships continue to be problematic. Zia thinks about a second suicide, but who wants to end up somewhere even worse than Barstow?
Still, along with lousy jobs, in this downscale afterlife, there are lousy bars to hang out it in, and Zia is befriended by Eugene, an agreeably blunt Russian-émigré whose entire family has offed themselves and wound up back together, a tighter clan than ever. (“Not every family is lucky like we are,” enthuses Eugene’s father.) When Zia gets word that his ex has also committed suicide and entered his universe, he persuades Eugene to join him on a road trip in search of his lost love.
In a roadtrip that plays like “The Wizard of Oz” rewritten by Jim Jarmusch and set along the endless desert of the I-15, Zia and Eugene encounter Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a determined and independent young woman who is convinced she’s been sent to this dimension by mistake and is seeking out “the people in charge” to see if she can straighten out the bureaucratic confusion. A bit later, they encounter the mysterious Kneller (Tom Waits), the leader of an ad-hoc community in the middle of nowhere.
This is about the point where “Wristcutters” begins to meander a little, but it never completely loses steams during its economical 88 minutes as it gently morphs into something like a morbid, vaguely political, variation on the ever popular subgenre of afterlife-based romantic comedies.
For starters, the ensemble cast is on solid ground. Patrick Fugit is an increasingly reliable specialist in bemused likeability, and his performance benefits from good chemistry with his costars — including leading lady Shannyn Sossamon and, in a standout performance, Florida-born actor Shea Whigham, sporting a peerless Russian accent. “Wristcutters” also includes a number of fun, or at least odd, cameos from familiar, but not famous, television and movie actors, including Will Arnett, Azura Skye, John Hawkes (“Deadwood”), and mammoth acting genius Abraham Benrubi (“ER,” “Parker Louis Can’t Lose”).
Also, music is often the secret weapon of the indie slacker comedy, and so it is here. Scoring by composer Bobby Johnston, as well as tracks by Tom Waits and a number of songs and artists associated with suicide (including music by Joy Division and a jazzy rendition of “Gloomy Sunday” a.k.a., “The Hungarian Suicide Song”) jauntily endeaden the soundtrack.
Even by comedy standards, “Wristcutters” is a bit slight for its serious subject matter, and it tends to be slightly soft, fuzzy and illogical. Still, it’s smart stuff and a consistently entertaining journey for those of us who like a lot of black humor thrown in with their wistful romance.
Single Disc DVD Review:
Lionsgate has put together a better than average variation of the standard package. Probably the best of the extras are some amusing deleted scenes, which fill in some details of the story while being pretty funny — and showing an extra cameo or two that didn’t make the final cut. Which brings us to “Making the Final Cut,” a standard but watchable “making of” promotional short. There’s also a “Director’s Storyboard Look-In” featuring writer/director Goran Dukic’s amusingly childlike illustrations alongside the film’s most elaborate scenes. And, of course, we have a commentary track featuring Dukic, Patrick Fugit (sounding just as low key and affable as his onscreen persona) and producers Tatiana Kelly and Mikal P. Lazarev, who also perform small roles in the film. Sounds like it was a pretty friendly set.