I'm not exactly sure what I was supposed to feel while watching "Wristcutters: A Love Story." The film strains for wit, but isn't funny. The "Love Story" is deflated and half-assed, and there aren't any meaningful personalities to embrace. It's a shapeless, flavorless Sundance blob that rolls around for 85 of the longer minutes you'll find in a theater this year.
After slicing his wrists, Zia (Patrick Fugit, "Almost Famous") awakes in limbo, discovering his life hasn't improved much. Stuck in a minimum-wage job and living with a blowhard roommate, Zia finds comfort in Eugene (Shea Whigham), a fellow suicide case. When Zia learns that his former girlfriend (Leslie Bibb, looking more like Fugit's mother) has recently offed herself and is somewhere in the area, the two hit the road in search of her, picking up Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a hitchhiker who swears she didn't kill herself, along the way.
"Wristcutters" comes from the indie film bargain bin; a film light with budget but heavy with ambition. The picture is desperate to evoke the blueness of the afterlife (curiously free of any religious overtones), where the act of suicide leaves the soul in a placid environment; a place where smiles aren't allowed and everyone walks in a sort of daze wondering how death made things even worse. It's a tempting concept, adapted from Etgar Keret's short story, but it doesn't make for a compelling movie.
For starters, director Goran Dukic has quite an assortment of idiosyncratic characters running around the film. These are far from extravagant personalities, but they're each assigned a bit of actorly business (e.g. Mikal likes to write on signs) to make up for the lack of depth in the screenplay. The effect is much more aggravating and gimmicky than consequential, perhaps due to the severe limitations of the actors. "Wristcutters" is far too heavy a dose of ironic whimsy and it pins the film down, unable to express an emotion worth savoring. It's a distancing directorial job from Dukic, who appears to be more enamored with his multi-dimensional, messianic, angelic flights of fancy than he is with rich characterizations that get the audience involved.
The lack of insight really comes into play when the film needs the viewer to embrace Zia and Mikal's flirtations. A screen romance with two characters that spends much of the film intertwining their destinies? Fantastic. A screen romance where the two leads barely speak to each other before their crucial consummation? Less so. Thank heavens Tom Waits shows up in the second act to liven up the movie with his sideways interpretation of otherworldly assistance.
Emo-drenched, affected, and proudly marginal, "Wristcutters" seems the ideal soufflé for film fanatics who love their cult cinema cold to the touch. For those who prefer a heartbeat to tales of devotion and laughs with their comedy, this film is definitely not the direction to head in.
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