Terminally depressed, Zia (Patrick Fugit) cuts his wrists and enters a bizarre afterlife reserved for suicides. It’s a melancholy existence of dreary jobs, dingy bars, rundown apartments and lives going nowhere, slowly. The kind, ironically enough, that drives people to suicide. Searching for his long lost love, Zia embarks on a wryly comic odyssey alongside travelling companions: Eugene (Shea Whigham), a Russian wannabe rock star who electrocuted himself onstage; and spirited Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who claims she is here by mistake and is searching for those “people in charge.” After many misadventures, the trio stumble across a commune run by mysterious Kneller (Tom Waits), a place where miracles happen and Zia and Mikal fall in love.
A likeable, if occasionally rambling, existential road trip comedy, Wristcutters is the very definition of quirky. Adapting Israeli author Etgar Keret’s novel Happy Campers, debuting director Goran Dukic stirs classic road movies, elements from Beckett, Ionescu and even Beetlejuice (1988 - remember the waiting room for the deceased?) into a beguiling mix. His screenplay is deliberately wayward, mirroring its aimless anti-hero, but cleverly fashions an afterlife of ironic torment for those who thought suicide was their way out. Everything is much the same as earthly reality, only grottier. Residents are unable to smile, clothes are tatty, nothing works properly, jukeboxes play music only by performers who committed suicide (Were Joy Division ever more apt?). It’s a fruitless existence, but one meant to inspire us to appreciate life more and get busy living. This uplifting message is Wristcutters’ greatest strength.
Patrick Fugit’s awkward charm serves him well although Zia is sometimes a little too laidback to really warm to. Shannyn Sossamon is engagingly sassy. She and Fugit make an endearing screen couple as their semi-philosophical banter blossoms into a romance. There is an amusing coda to their romantic interlude on the beach when they awaken the next morning surrounded by used condoms and syringes discarded by junkies and prostitutes. Tom Waits is one of those few musicians who can really act, but we never get a handle on who/what Kneller is supposed to be. A conman, an emissary from heaven, or guardian angel to a couple of mixed-up kids in love?
Wristcutters is consistently inventive, making inspired use of some of Los Angeles’ dingier locales. It features memorable characters (oddball Eugene keeps things lively), pot shots at New Age religions and deadpan, surrealistic humour grounded in everyday observations (a black hole under the car seat where characters keep losing things). But, like the characters themselves, audiences might wonder where this road trip is heading. Its conclusion is as contrived as any mainstream rom-com, but still sweet-natured enough to make you smile.