Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, Shea Whigham, Tom Waits, Leslie Bibb, Will Arnett
Directed by Goran Dukic
Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
There was some debate among the staff whether or not to review Wristcutters: A Love Story because it’s really not a horror movie, but since it is a very black comedy/fantasy with principal themes of suicide and the afterlife, we figured it crosses enough genre lines to be included on the site. There’s even a brief appearance by Irwin Keyes as a bartender (talk about upping your cred)! Basically, if anyone is a target demographic for this film, it’s horror fans — especially those with a wicked sense of humor. So you might as well have some sort of idea of what you’re in for if you do decide to check it out.
As the movie begins, Zia (Fugit) is up to something; otherwise why would he be so concerned with cleaning his apartment and making himself look as presentable as possible? As it turns out, that something is offing himself due to his despondency over breaking up with his girl friend, Desiree (Bibb). The joke’s on him, however, because instead of finding eternal peace and salvation, Zia is now trapped in a purgatory-like alternate reality that’s a lot like the real world, only slightly worse in every conceivable way. He’s stuck in a dead-end job at Kamikaze Pizza, his roommate is a big Austrian guy (Abraham Benrubi, out from behind the admit desk at “ER”) he doesn’t particularly get along with, and no one in the place can smile — or show any really deep emotion at all. It seems the powers-that-be don’t much care for suicide. The most excitement anyone has is guessing someone else’s method of taking him or herself out, and brief flashbacks clue in the audience as to what exactly went down. But then Zia learns from a mutual acquaintance (Jake Busey in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo) that Desiree offed herself as well shortly after his death. Now he has a mission — to win back her love — so he and his oddball Russian buddy Eugene (Whigham) set off to find her. Not that they have any idea where they are going, but like most good road trip flicks, it’s not about the destination but rather the journey itself.
They pick up a hitchhiker, Mikal (Sossamon), who is obsessed with finding the PIC (people in charge) so she can explain that it’s all just a big mistake. She didn’t intend to kill herself and should be entitled to go home. The heat, the assholes, and the lack of smiles are taking a toll on her, but right away it’s obvious that she and Zia are destined to be together. Of course they don’t realize it nearly as quickly as we do, and the film takes its sweet time bringing things to their obvious conclusions. The middle third of Wristcutters lags and gets a bit bogged down by its own quirkiness. It over-emphasizes what turn out to be minor plot points and discounts those that seem more pertinent. In fact, it’s probably one of the few films I’ve seen where the deleted scenes (there are ten of them) were more interesting and enlightening than a lot of what was left intact. But there are some bright spots: the chemistry among the three leads (Fugit, Sossamon, and Whigham are all spot-on with their interactions), the soundtrack (most of which is ostensibly comprised of cassette tapes of Eugene’s failed band project), the audacity to put a literal “black hole” under the passenger seat of Eugene’s car, and Eugene’s one-liners. If you couldn’t tell already, just about anything involving the character Eugene (and, by extension, the actor Shea Whigham) is a highlight. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so because his IMDB page lists him in nine projects that are either completed or in post- or pre-production since Wristcutters; he’s a guy we’ll definitely be seeing a lot more of in the future.
Mikal P. Lazarev as Nanuk is a pleasant presence in the film. She manages to convey a lot despite being mostly mute, and Fugit does a good job, too, although his character is more static than the rest and requires restraint rather than showmanship. The film hints at a complexity that never quite surfaces even as Zia strives to emulate his peers by performing his own “silly little miracle.” Those around him are able to float or make objects fly or change the color of things. It comes so naturally to everyone else but is quite a struggle for him. But that facet of the tale is glossed over in favor of the “love story” mentioned in the title. Fortunately, the sentimental stuff is kept to a minimum and handled quite deftly, but it does detract from the supernatural and/or psychological aspects of Zia and Mikal’s situation. Watching from a horror fan’s perspective, I would have preferred more time spent on the deaths and the real story behind the enigmatic Kneller (a terrific Tom Waits) and his connection to the PIC, but as someone who can also appreciate a romantic storyline if it’s done well, I was somewhat conflicted by Wristcutters. Parts of it made me restless and uncomfortable. That may have been Dukic’s intent as he explains in the “Making the Final Cut” featurette, but it just didn’t work for me.
Running about eight minutes, the making-of covers the film’s short story background (it was originally written by Etgar Keret and adapted for the screen by Dukic), discusses a few of the locations, and reveals that a different, more downbeat ending was considered. Unfortunately, it’s not included with the deleted scenes; I have a feeling I might have preferred it to the version on the DVD. Not that there’s anything overtly wrong with the existing ending. It just feels a little tacked on and not 100% in keeping with the spirit of the piece.
The last two notable special features are a five-minute black & white slideshow of the photos Fugit took while filming Wristcutters (pretty cool to flip through) and the commentary, which consists of Dukic, Fugit, Lazarev (who, in addition to her acting gig, served as one of the film’s producers), and co-producer Tatian Kelly. It’s well balanced, fast paced, and uber-informative with lots of behind-the-scenes info and talk about what’s on the screen (rather than just about themselves) — the actors, the music, the locations, wardrobe, etc., etc. With regard to the locations, one was an abandoned amusement park that worked perfectly as Kneller’s base of operations, and several others were coincidentally the same as those used in Repo Man. Fugit is especially engaging and open during the commentary while Dukic and the rest point out details you may have overlooked, all of which serve to add to the viewer’s enjoyment of the film. But at the same time it draws attention to Wristcutters‘ faults. A movie should be complemented by its commentary, not outshone. Again, I have to say that had it been edited differently with an even darker focus, it would have been a superior film.
Stories about life and death, love and redemption, angels and purgatory have been around for centuries. Is Wristcutters one of the best? Not by a long shot, but it’s not one of the worst either. The middle of the road is where you’ll find it, and so long as Eugene is in the driver’s seat, you should enjoy the ride at least as much as I did, if not more depending on your point of view about such things.
2 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
Discuss Wristcutters: A Love Story in the Dread Central forums!