Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) – movie review

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Movie Review by Siobhan Daly

Starring: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, Shea Whigham, Tom Waits, Will Arnett

Director: Goran Dukic

Most films that come out of the legendary Sundance Film Festival are prefixed with ‘quirky’ as if quirkiness is a recommendation in itself, but does WRISTCUTTERS: A LOVE STORY, winner and nominee of many ‘quirky’ awards (Nominee for the Sundance 2006 Grand Jury Prize, Winner of the 2006 Seattle Film Festival’s Best Director) cut it?

Hip indie actor Patrick Fugit (ALMOST FAMOUS, WHITE OLEANDER, SAVED!) stars as Zia, a young guy recently dumped by his girlfriend who decides that the solution to all his worldly troubles is to cut his wrists in the bathroom sink. The afterlife however, is not quite the pleasant departure and answer to his angst that he thought it would be.

Zia arrives in a more desperate and bleak situation that the one just left, contemplates suicide again, undoubtedly much sooner that he thought he would have to, but his fear of ending up somewhere even more depressing than his current existence, where everything’s the same as the world recently exited “just a little worse”, keeps him firmly away from sharp implements. In this bleachy, washed out world, courtesy of some excellent cinematography from Vanja Cernjul, Zia finds himself serving food at Kamikaze Pizza with an irate Austrian flatmate who likes to berate Zia on his toilet habits and for eating the last of the cottage cheese. The mundanity is overwhelming; he misses home, misses his family and dreams of his ex, Desiree (Leslie Bibb), all now inhabitants of a world he can never again reach thanks to his own actions. However, a chance meeting in the supermarket with a former friend to whom he owes money, reveals that Desiree killed herself shortly after Zia and is also somewhere in this hell hole. Overjoyed and filled with a new passionate energy, Zia, accompanied by his new Russian friend Eugene (played with sharp comic brilliance by Shea Whigham) sets off across the desert to find her with in a car held together by masking tape and no headlights.

Along the way they meet hitchhiker Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon) who insists she is in this world populated solely by suicides by mistake and is trying to meet the people in charge, and chance upon a utopian oasis run by the eccentric Kneller, played by a multi-talented Tom Waits. Unlike the prolific road trip genre in which college boys invariably set out to discover themselves sexually, this group of unlikely friends set out on a road trip that will reveal to them what really matters, the deeper, truer issues of life. It is a credit to the director Goran Dukic that the film never descends into sentimentality, yet has a genuinely heart-warming lightness.

Both characteristically and physically, Fugit and Sossaman could easily be Zach Braff and Natalie Portman in GARDEN STATE, also a former Sundance success. The melancholic yet cute loner rediscovers the meaning of life via the love of a quirky (that word again), independent and free-spirited girl not restrained by the confines or expectations of her circumstances. Sossaman is at times frankly irritating in overplaying her role and Portman does it a whole lot better, but the story itself is so endearing that you have to forgive them.

Surprisingly, a film about suicide is most powerful in promoting the message of life. None of the characters find a way out of their problems by killing themselves. All of the inhabitants of the afterlife still carry their brutal wounds, whether they’re from gunshots, wrist scars or the pallor of a gas inhalation. Many want to go home; “It’s as hot as balls, nobody smiles and everybody’s an asshole”. Somehow, what they had just chosen to leave behind was infinitely better than the place where they have just arrived, but for them it is too late. Problems haven’t improved; they’ve just been made worse. You have to be alive to make changes, the one thing the suicides can’t do.

This is a touching film that carefully dissects life, love and death, while maintaining a darkly comedic tone and deftly avoiding mawkish emotions. It’s taken WRISTCUTTERS a long time to wash up on this side of the Atlantic since its US premiere in 2006 but it’s not a moment too soon. It will undoubtedly build a cult following, but will deserve every obsessed devotee. One thing’s for certain, all those producers and distributors at Sundance looking for the next big thing have definitely just found it.

4 out of 6 stars