Wristcutters is a premise in search of a movie. Set in a purgatorial afterlife populated by suicides, it’s a shabby, sentimental indie that didn’t bother to spring for Zach Braff or the rights to the high-profile emo songs that might have drawn the audience of yearning teens it so desperately craves. Instead, it signed up Tom Waits and Patrick Fugit (of Almost Famous…fame) in a misguided attempt to rope in the aging hipster demographic, who won’t fail to find it thin, lacking in humor, and occasionally insulting. So, amend that — a premise in search of a movie in search of an audience.
In the opening scene, Zia (Fugit) calmly cleans his bedroom and then commits suicide in his bathroom. In the next scene, he’s in another bathroom, this one sporting an “employees must wash hands before returning to work” sign, telling us in voice-over that, after dying, he got a job at Kamikaze Pizzeria. The deathly world serviced by this pizzeria looks like any lightly populated desert town, but with a blueish tint.
It turns out that death doesn’t solve the problem of women. Zia had ended it all because he was heartbroken over Desiree (Leslie Bibb), a willowy blonde we meet in flashbacks. But not only does his heartbreak continue in Suicity (that’s not what it’s called), he soon learns that Desiree took her own life soon after he took his, and is likely a fellow resident of this strange place.
At a bar after work one night, Zia engages with two cute-but-pallid young women in a guessing game — they scan the bar and try to ascertain the method various patrons used to “off” themselves. When a mustachioed, Eastern European customer named Eugene (Shea Whigham) joins the table, the girls scamper, leaving the guys to strike up a friendship. Eugene’s entire family — brother and parents — committed suicide (at separate times), so they’ve been reunited. With not much to occupy his time, Eugene agrees to join Zia on a road trip to find Desiree. Along the way, they find Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a beauty who’s seeking out the “People in Charge” to appeal her fate — she claims she’s landed in purgatory by mistake.
The main flaw with the clever-on-paper premise is that, once it’s been established, it has no effect on the action. The road trip could just as easily be taken by two living guys in search of a lost love. The premise can’t do any of the heavy lifting, so that’s left to the script, which is a dud. Much of the early dialogue between Zia and Eugene feels improvised in the worst way, and several visual gags are telegraphed and impotent. (One example will suffice: When they pick up Mikal, Eugene says he can’t sit in the back seat, because people who sit in the back have “no cock.” Hilarious already, right? Smash cut to Eugene sitting in the front seat, crammed between Mikal and Zia, and you have the movie’s toothless sense of humor.)
When Waits enters, as Kneller, another mysterious seeker who ends up as a deus ex machina, Wristcutters goes from failed road-trip comedy to failed surreal comedy. Even a cameo by Will Arnett is wasted. He plays a spiritual charlatan, but his skills are no match for the
lifeless lines handed to him.
If you’re concerned that Wristcutters sounds a bit precious and underimagined, it’s those things, too. There are no stars in the sky. No one in this afterworld can smile. Fugit, charming enough in Almost Famous as the teenage reporter sent on the road with a rock band, is a bit charisma-challenged to begin with — the no-smiling constraint only serves to emphasize his wooden performance here. He looks a lot like Jeff Tweedy, so perhaps a future biopic will be his big breakout. For now, his career seems to have the same problem that Zia does, stuck somewhere between living and dead.
John Williams lives in Brooklyn. He’s a freelance writer. He blogs at A Special Way of Being Afraid.
Wristcutters: A Love Story / John Williams
Film | November 15, 2007 | Comments ()