Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig scored with her last picture, “Italian for Beginners,” which depicted some hapless types fumbling their way through lives that were humorous but tinged with sadness. Her new film, “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself,” attempts many of the same ideas, but is less successful at it.
It is set in Glasgow, where the North family owns a used-book shop. The father having died recently, oldest son Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) now runs it, while simultaneously trying to watch over his brother, Wilbur (Jamie Sives), who, as you may have heard, wants to kill himself.
Wilbur makes half-hearted attempts at suicide every now and then, always winding up with a bitter group of fellow suicidals who comprise a rather non-supportive support group at the hospital. It is on the advice of group leader Moira (Julia Davis) that Wilbur moves in with his brother, upstairs of the bookshop.
Meanwhile, there is a janitor at the hospital named Alice (Shirley Henderson), a single mom with a young daughter. Alice keeps any discarded books she can find around the hospital and sells them at the brothers’ store occasionally, hence becoming familiar with Harbour and Wilbur both, more so when she interrupts one of Wilbur’s attempts (a hanging, this time). She and Harbour get married, only to discover Harbour has health problems too, more physical than mental.
Scherfig (who co-wrote the screenplay with Anders Thomas Jensen) is onto something here. The film has the elements of either a weeping tragedy or a dark comedy, yet somehow finds a middle route that makes it neither. The film is matter-of-fact about most things, except when the facts would be unbearably sad, in which case Scherfig lightens them.
It is an interesting approach to this subject matter, and I find the story involving enough, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Wilbur’s slow ascent out of depression isn’t given the weight it would need to make the film a character study, and the peripheral elements — various supporting characters who fall in and out of love, mostly — contribute only a flavor, not a full-blown entree. It’s certain parts of the film that I enjoy — all three lead performances, for example, and some of the snarky dialogue employed by perpetually grumpy Wilbur — rather than the film as a whole.
B- (1 hr., 44 min.; )