Strange New World – Wristcutters: A Love Story

“Miracles only happen when they don’t matter.”

The hook of Wristcutters: A Love Story, adapted from Etgar Keret’s short story, “Kneller’s Happy Campers” is most certainly its premise. A contribution to the surrealistic road trip genre, it centers on an entirely different afterlife. The place where people exist after they “off themselves.” Our main character, somewhat, is Zia (Patrick Fugit). He was once a happy man, until somehow the relationship with his beautiful blond girlfriend, Desiree ended. And that’s when Zia decides to kill himself.

Welcome to this strange kind of post-suicidal universe, it looks to have been shot along the desert-lined highways out West, it looks as though these are perfectly regular locations, but given the coloring (often bleached or grayed) and appearance of the surroundings, there is something hopelessly depressing. Allowed closer inspection, it is clearly a depleted version of the world they’d once known. (Says the lead character, Zia: “I thought about suicide again, but I’m afraid I’ll just wind up someplace worse than this.”) Buildings are mostly junked abandons. People (who’s method of suicide is sometimes apparent) can’t even smile. The female companion on this roadtrip, Mikal is on a mission to find the “leaders” and explain that her arrival was an accident: “Are you joking? Do you guys like it here? Who the hell likes being stuck in a place where you can’t even smile? It’s hot as balls, everybody’s an asshole. I just wanna go home. ” There’s elements of the former world as well, such as the enforcement of vandalism laws. Or having to get a job and pay rent. It’s also kind of futuristic (in that post-apocalyptic sense) and this universe even has it’s charms and magic, so it’s not completely undesirable. People are reminded of suicide here, their own and others, but do they ever regret it? The characters simple seem so matter-of-fact about it’s occurrence.

When Zia runs into a familiar face (don’t it just seem like everyone is committing suicide after a while… time to revive Big Fun!), he learns that Desiree, distraught over her boyfriend’s death, killed herself too, and that she is somewhere to be found in his world now. He solicits the companionship of his friend, Eugene (Shea Whigham, a Florida doing a good job playing a Russian), a guy who’s whole immediately family wound up there with him, and Eugene, who has the car, agrees to embark “Eastish” in search of this girl. He is somewhat his wisdom, somewhat his source of confusion, especially with Eugene’s philosophies tied to his nature of trying to always be the Man’s man.

As the road trip genre obligates, they’re journey intersects with a lot of strange characters and one more for the trip: Mikhal (Shannyn Sossamon), the one who claims she got there by accident and is hitchhiking her way around in search of the leaders to explain that it was a mistake, something that might convince the reader they’re about to head into something more like liabilities as a result of typos (Brazil). Croatian writer and director Goran Dukic, who’s film credits mostly include shorts, did a lot of adding to Keret’s short story. Like the black hole in the car, for example, to emphasize the surrealism of the after-life, though larger ambitions were restricted by the shooting budget and an inflexible 30-day shooting schedule at 17 locations. And while Dukic was working with several well known actors, including Will Arnett who seems like he’d be totally out of his expected element if this weren’t black comedy, Patrick Fugit, John Hawkes, and Tom Waits, it’s funny to hear what inspired his cast selection: he really thought they were good in movies that pretty much everyone has seen. And Tom Waits? “I’d been listening to him since I was a little kid.” Which might hint that they worked for incredibly little money to appear in this movie, which seems inevitable for a movie with such intense low-budget quirk.

Thankfully, despite that low-budget quirk, it’s spared the typical “quirky indie” paint with childish block lettering and bold colors and excessive irony. Instead, Wristcutters is fairly steady black comedy (fairly stead because there’s this weird experiment involving Will Arnett’s guru-type character) that brings it closer to surreal road trip movies (a mishmash of activity and points of focus) and it even has a happy ending. Add to that a soundtrack dominated by rock singers who had committed suicide at one time, and the modern gypsy-punk of Golgol Bordello (the lead singer of which, Eugene Hutz, is modeled upon for the character, Eugene), the movie rarely seeks convention and for that reason, can take it’s viewers just about anyone it wants in this strange new world.


One Response

  1. The purgatorial premise is pleasingly eccentric but, in the end, Wristcutters falls victim to its washed-out mood, and limps bloodlessly to a close. Good review, check out mine when you can!

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