Wristcutters: A Love Story
There’s a thick-blooded vein of Slavic humour running through Croatian writer-director Goran Dukic’s absurdist purgatorial romantic comedy. Adapted from Israeli writer Etgar Keret’s short story, Kneller’s Happy Campers, Dukic’s feature debut boasts a winning combination of the heartily demonstrative and the hilariously miserablist.
The film’s clever conceit finds depressed youngster Zia (cherubic Patrick Fugit) slashing his wrists after breaking up with his girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb) and waking up in an afterlife that’s very similar to the world he’s just left, only a bit worse. The landscape of this purgatory resembles the soulless retail parks and dusty desert of southern California’s so-called ‘Inland Empire’, and here everyone has to get on with life, as it were, which means returning to the drudgery of menial labour. Thus, Zia finds himself employed at a fast food outlet named Kamikaze Pizza.
There he befriends an alternatively manic and morose Russian rocker named Eugene (Shea Whigham playing a priceless part based on Gogol Bordello’s gypsy punk singer Eugene Hutz), who was electrocuted on stage when he poured beer over himself and his guitar. Just as he begins to settle into his new miserable life, Zia discovers Desiree has also ended up in purgatory, and so he takes off on a road trip with Eugene to find his beloved. En route they pick up sassy Goth girl Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who’s adamant she didn’t commit suicide and is looking for the people in charge so she can have the mistake rectified. Together the argumentative trio pitch up at a weird trailer park community run by benevolent old codger Kneller (a perfectly cast Tom Waits). It’s an inspired spin on The Wizard of Oz, of course, with Waits standing in for the Wiz.
The crazy combo of offbeat, upbeat and downbeat sensibilities earned Wristcutters an enthusiastic reception at the Sundance Film Festival, where, in 2006, it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. A year later, on release across the US, its blackly comic treatment of self-negation resulted in castigation from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention despite the film’s ultimately optimistic message about love being better than death. Go figure.
Showcase Coatbridge & Paisley from Fri 23 Nov.