Wristcutters: A Love Story
by Jason Coffman
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As a general rule, I am not a big fan of romantic comedies. However, there are always exceptions to any rule—let’s say a film that claims to be “a love story” in its title has its protagonist committing suicide before the opening credits are even finished. That film has my attention right away. Wristcutters really is a love story at the core, but one that is quite unlike any you’ve seen before.
Zia (Patrick Fugit) kills himself after his longtime girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb) leaves him. He soon discovers that there is a special afterlife reserved for suicides: everything is pretty much exactly the same as it is here on Earth, only “a little worse.” There’s not a lot of color, no one smiles or laughs, and there’s hardly any way to tell it apart from life aside from the fact that “How did you off?” seems to have replaced “Do you come here often?” as a standard pick-up line. Zia gets a job at Kamikaze Pizza and a tiny apartment with a chronically-depressed German named Erik (Abraham Benrubi), who constantly complains about Zia’s roommate etiquette (eating the last of the cottage cheese, for example).
Fortunately for Zia, he meets Russian rock musician Eugene (Shea Wigham) and his family. They become drinking buddies and things seem to be getting if not better, then at least tolerable. Eventually, Zia gets word that Desiree has offed herself and he talks Eugene into driving him around to go look for her. On the road, they meet Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a young woman convinced that there has been a mistake and that she did not in fact kill herself. She’s traveling around looking for the people in charge, but there have only been vague whispers that such people even exist. Their travels lead them to a small camp of outsiders run by Kneller (Tom Waits).
Then things get weird.
Wristcutters is a refreshing, unique film. It is very funny and its bored afterlife is an ingenious take on the concept of Limbo: no one ever leaves because it’s so much easier not to bother. The dialogue and performances are great across the board, especially Shea Wigham as Eugene. The soundtrack helps keep things lively (no pun intended) with some great songs by Gogol Bordello. And it’s hard not to smile when you realize the miserable little dive bar is playing Joy Division on the jukebox. For a film whose story is based in such dark subject matter, Wristcutters is surprisingly life-affirming.
The DVD of Wristcutters features a commentary track by the director and members of the cast and crew, as well as a “making-of” featurette.
Jason Coffman is a freelance writer and film critic living in Chicago.
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