If a film begins with a suicide, chances are, it won't be the feel-good movie of the year. But WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY is surprisingly sweet and funny even as it proudly features a dark streak that lives up to its title. After a rough breakup, … see full wiki
Dark comedy is the hardest thing to pull off. Trying to make a sentimental piece that tugs at the heartstrings in a natural way without over doing it (Billy Eliot as opposed to The Notebook) is a breeze; the worst it can be considered is a piece of emotional tripe. If you fail at dark comedy, you have made a probably offensive piece of fill in whatever blank you want.
Goran Dukic wrote and directed Wristcutters: A Love Story based on a short story called “Kneller’s Happy Campers” by Etgar Keret. These little facts are the easiest thing I can say about the film.
Zia (Patrick Fugit) slashes his wrists and finds himself in a depressing world of decay and garbage populated with others who “offed” themselves. He meets a Russian, Eugene (Shea WIgham) and his whole family who, obviously, killed themselves also. By accident, Zia finds out that his girlfriend had killed herself, so a journey begins. Eugene has a car, so the pair goes on a road trip to find Diseree (Leslie Bibb). On the way they pick up a hitchhiker, Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who claims to be in the suicide world incorrectly and is looking for the people in charge. From here things go from strange to stranger and back to strange again. It is, oddly perhaps, a delicate story, so if I say more, I will give too much away.
Dark comedies (The War of the Roses, Harold and Maude, and nearly all of the works by Tim Burton even if half of them are terrible) are delicate for the reason stated above. I can think of no other form of irony within the creative vein that is as stark as this.
The question is whether a film about suicides sharing a depressing world where they cannot smile is funny. The answer for me is: about half the time.
The film is never tasteless. The suicides are handled in an absurd manner that removes them from any level of maudlin (and I hope offense—I took none). I laughed out loud several times which isn’t common for me, so this attests for the humor factor, at least with regards to my preferences. As long as the film focuses on road-trip humor with a dash of death, or death with a dash of road-trip, it remains entertaining.
The problem is (and this is where the film is funny only half the time) when the story has to take a different tack. A journey with no real end has to have something happen during it or the film just falls apart (Gerry--something may have happened on that journey, I’m told that it did, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out, falling asleep twice is reason enough not to finish a flick). As the title says, it is a love story.
The title and journey rules dictate that the film has to move in a direction away from dark comedy onto a track that is more mainstream, and this is where it finally does fail as a complete story. The image that came to mind as the film wound down is what happens when you let a stout sit too long—this happens with other beers too, so you can still follow along even if you don’t care for stouts (for non-beer drinkers, skip down a little). The stout stays strong early on while you drink it as the others around you do when the drinks are delivered. Then the conversation starts or continues. Pretty soon, you notice that about a quarter of the beer is left and has gotten warm (or changed temperature for people who drink stouts at “room temperature”). So you drink the last bit so as not to waste it. The last bit tastes a bit like hopped egg whites. What was good early on now has the filmy icky taste, and serious aftertaste of albumin. This is what happens to dark comedies that cannot follow through.
All that aside, the acting was very good, especially for an indie. Tom Waits (Kneller) has fun and is funny which is totally normal for him. There was an attempt to frame the suicide world in decay—filming through decrepit houses or over abandoned cars or tires for instance. While this makes sense, it isn’t consistent. Although it leads to a great scene when Zia and Mikal wake up on a beach where used syringes and condoms surround them (Kneller says that the area was for prostitutes and IV users who found the place too disgusting even for them).
Recommending the film is probably the easiest thing of this difficult review. If you like dark comedies, then watch it. While it is flawed, the attempt it makes leads to more than one serious laughing spell and the departure isn’t terrible, just disappointing. From time to time when I recommend an odd film like this one I say: it looks like the cast had a blast making the film. I think they did and I enjoyed it more than I didn’t (like the beer metaphor above—oh and if that metaphor didn’t make sense then the movie probably won’t either, just a wee bit of bragging on my part).
What did you think of this review?