Wristcutters: A Love Story

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“Wristcutters: A Love Story” is a great title for a movie, but that’s only the beginning. This is one of the more creative, unusually entertaining things I’ve seen in a while, certainly head and shoulders above most of its competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Consider: If you commit suicide, you don’t go to the regular afterlife. You go to a special suicides-only afterlife that looks like the world of the living, only without the beauty. There are squalid cities, vast open deserts, and beat-up old cars in this place, and people have jobs and houses and money and the other things they had in life. It’s not hell; it’s just … someplace.

It’s impossible to smile in this world, and everyone bears the scars of how they died. (One man wears a hat to cover the exit wound that the rifle blasted in his skull.) A recent arrival is Zia (Patrick Fugit), a teenager who offed himself when his girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb) dumped him. He got a job working at Kamikaze Pizza as soon as he got to town, and he shares a dumpy apartment with a stranger. He pals around with Eugene (Shea Whigham), a failed Russian rock star whose entire family is here, too. (“Not every family is as lucky as we are,” his mother observes. They may be dead, but at least they’re together.)

No one has any ambitions or goals here, and it’s questionable whether it would be possible to achieve them anyway. But then Zia hears that Desiree has come to town, apparently having killed herself, too. Clearly she did this because she was despondent over Zia’s death! It’s every suicidal person’s fantasy!

Thus armed with a purpose in his afterlife, Zia embarks on a journey to find Desiree, taking Eugene along with him for the ride. (Eugene is one of those “along for the ride” kind of guys.) They soon meet Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a hitchhiker who is also on a mission. She insists she doesn’t belong here, that her drug overdose was accidental and not a suicide. She wants to find whoever’s in charge and demand reassignment. No one knows who the head honcho is, or whether there is one, but now these three lost souls are driving across the highway of death together, looking for answers.

Yes, there’s a little Oz in this story, written and directed by Goran Dukic and adapted from Etgar Keret’s short story “Kneller’s Happy Campers” (more on that in a minute). It’s about the search for meaning in life, carried out by people for whom life is over but whose journey has just begun. And it brims with goofy details, like the Bermuda Triangle under the passenger seat of Eugene’s car, and the curious place where people can perform miracles, but only minor, insignificant ones.

That place is run by Kneller (Tom Waits), a grizzled oddball who lets travelers stay at his campground as long as they pull their own weight and don’t cause trouble. This happy commune (Kneller’s Happy Campers, see?) is where Zia becomes frustrated at his inability to perform miracles — not even a simple levitation — and where the wisdom of his search for Desiree begins to seem doubtful.

We do find Desiree eventually, at the same time that we meet a cult leader (Will Arnett) who, having committed mass suicide with his followers, now wants to do it again in a grand ceremony and go to the NEXT world.

The performances are funny, though I can’t say anyone really registers as a fully realized sympathetic “character.” The film is zippy and even sweet, but it could use more warmth. You don’t really feel attached to anyone.

Still, it pokes gentle fun at the foolish places people look for meaning in their lives, and it has an upbeat, redemptive view of the world. Life is short, it says. Live it well, because you may not get a second chance.

B+ (1 hr., 31 min.; R, scattered harsh profanity, brief nudity, suicide-related content.)

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