Wristcutters: A Love Story (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Is there romance in the afterlife? Does the heart still burn with yearning after it no longer beats? Wristcutters: A Love Story, with a title that easily passes the "truth in advertising" test, would like us to believe so. While the landscape may be reminiscent of a bleak Southern California desertscape with most of the meaningful color desaturated (a cinematographic technique that is becoming clich├ęd), there are still things to "live" for (so to speak). The slice of the afterlife we're seeing isn't the whole picture, just the part reserved for those who have taken their own lives. Those seeking other compartments of the Great Hereafter must rely on movies such as What Dreams May Come and Corpse Bride, neither of which remotely resembles the low-budget alternative presented here by director Goran Dukic (who is adapting from the short story "Kneller's Happy Campers" by Etgar Keret).

Five minutes into the proceedings, the protagonist, Zia (Patrick Fugit), has shuffled off this mortal coil, done in by self-inflicted cuts to the wrist. He ends up working as a pizza boy at the afterlife's version of Dominos (called "Kamikaze Pizza"). The new world, he explains in a voiceover, is a lot like the old one except less cheerful. That might have something to do with the population being comprised of people who have committed suicide. Anyway, Zia learns that his ex-girlfriend, Desiree (Leslie Bibb), is also here and he yearns to find her, seeking a reconciliation and an opportunity to un-live happily ever after. So he goes on a road trip, accompanied by his new best friend, Eugene (Shea Whigham), and Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a hitchhiker who's looking for the "People in Charge." They make the trip in a car with a little anomaly: there's a black hole under the passenger's seat. No big deal unless you drop something. Eventually, they end up at a magical camp run by a guy named Kneller (Tom Waits), who encourages them to stay for as long as they want.

What it all boils down to is that Wristcutters is pretty much a combination road movie/love story with a little dose of magical realism thrown in to liven things up. For the most part, the ideas are better than the execution. Dukic does a passable job with what appears to be almost no budget, but the film never quite seems quirky enough. One wonders what a director like Spike Jonze could have done with this material. It certainly would have been a lot trippier. There are also logical problems with the ending. As written it doesn't work, and it's a little frustrating that there are ways the same thing could have been achieved without violating the movie's admittedly fuzzy rules about life, death, and limbo.

The film has an offbeat quality that as often feels forced as organic to the nature and structure of the film. As is typical for a road movie, all the secondary characters are oddballs, intended more to add color than existing for any other reason. The leads, played in a low-key fashion by the likeable Patrick Fugit (who had the lead in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous) and the exotic Shannyn Sossamon (an indie actress who has made a lot of films no one has seen), are appealing enough but too little time is devoted to their romance. In the end, it seems like one more piece of driftwood floating around in a sea of half-realized ideas. Wristcutters is by no means a bad movie, and there are some effective sequences to be found therein (especially the opening one where Zia meticulously cleans his room before offing himself), but it is neither as clever nor as funny nor as inventive as the daring title might lead one to expect.

Wristcutters: A Love Story (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:31
U.S. Release Date: 2007-10-19
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1