There's nothing worse than slitting your wrists, falling to the ground to drift off in a pool of your own blood in an apartment you've just cleaned for the occasion ... only to discover, right before the life drains out completely, that you've missed a giant dust bunny. This is your last glimpse of life on earth: an accumulated ball of dirt, wrecking, and mocking, your plan for flawless self-termination. Could hell be any worse?
Yes and no. Wristcutters: A Love Story, is the directorial debut of Goran Dukic, who developed the script at the Sundance Screenwriters lab in 2004, based on a short story by Israeli writer/actor Etgar Keret. The film tracks Zia (Patrick Fugit), a young guy so wrecked by a break up that the only solution is to clean his house and slit his wrists. After dying, Zia finds himself in a special afterlife reserved for suicide victims. It's not quite hell, exactly – unless your version of hell looks an awful lot like industrial Los Angeles – but it's certainly not heaven, and though Zia is resigned to his lot, he can't stop thinking about Desiree (Leslie Bibb of Popular fame), the gal he offed himself in the name of. Zia wastes away most of his hours either working for minimum wage, or drinking with Eugene, a mutton-chopped Russian who got his ticket to the afterlife by electrocuting himself whilst onstage fronting what appears to have been an Gogol Bordello ripoff band (speaking of Gogol Bordello, Wristcutters has a feel similar to Liev Schreiber's Everything is Illuminated, except far less self-important and pretentious).
One night, Zia runs into a guy he owed money to whilst alive. When the creditor tells Zia that Desiree killed herself not long after he died, Zia convinces Eugene to accompany him on a search for his lost love. Not long into their trip, they pick up Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a plucky, black-eyed brunette who insists that she didn't really kill herself, and, to that end, is looking for the People in Charge so that she can get a transfer to some other death world. It's obvious immediately after Mikal hops in the backseat that Zia will eventually abandon his torch for Desiree to pursue this hitchhiking temptress; it's to the credit of the actors that the love triangle, and the road trip that serves it, stays compelling the whole way through. It doesn't hurt that Arrested Development's Will Arnett shows up in a small, pitch-perfect, perfectly hysterical role as a shady spiritual guru who has taken Desiree under his wing. At the press screening I went to (which started out packed and stayed remarkably full throughout), his every appearance on screen was enough to send a pocket of critics into a fit of giggles.
It's a bold first effort, with a distinct, swaggering sense of style and humor that's hard – even for a cynical blogger sick to death of indie "quirk"– to resist. The script is sharp, if a bit narratively confused, and star Fugit's droll voiceover is impeccably timed – it needs to be, to sell lines like, "After I killed myself, I got this job at Kamikaze Pizza." Dukic approaches material that reeks of Sundance cliche – suicide, lost love, eccentric survivalists, silent Eskimo girlfriends, funny accents – with such a light touch that the film ends up feeling like a magical realist confection, a clear-headed rom-com about misfits and tiny miracles that floats over most of the features I've seen in Park City this year.
Others on Wristcutters, A Love Story: Variety's Justin Chang calls it an "affectionate slow-blooming romance [that] mines an understated vein of comic melancholy." Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter, however, was less impressed and concluded that, despite its imaginative premise, the film "never expands beyond a little gag-filled romantic comedy."