Edinburgh International Film Festival

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

Starring: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, Shea Wigman, Tom Waits

Directed by: Goran Dukic

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

In Tim Burton's Beetlejuice, people who commit suicide become civil servants in the Afterlife. In Wristcutters: A Love Story, they should be so lucky.

Patrick Fugit and Shannyn Sossamon star in Wristcutters: A Love Story

When twentysomething loser Zia (Patrick Fugit from Almost Famous) slits his wrists and expires on his bathroom floor, he comes round to find himself in a limbo-like purgatory that's 'like this world, only a little worse'. Forget angels and demons - Zia is now working for a squalid fast food outlet called Kamikaze Pizza and sharing a dingy flat with the receptionist from ER. Like a cross between Arizona Dream's Axel Blackmar and Fry from Futurama, he's aimlessly adrift in a world that seems familiar but doesn't quite play by the rules. Everything is grey and dismal, Joy Division seems to play on a loop and nobody's allowed to smile - it's as if a particularly dreary episode of EastEnders had been transported to the American Midwest.

And then Zia discovers that his beloved girlfriend, Desiree, has also 'offed herself' (the afterlife euphemism for suicide), so together with his crazy Russian friend Eugene (a splendidly exuberant Shea Wigman), he sets off on an impromptu road trip through the dusty wastelands of the underworld outback to track her down. But on the way, the unlikely duo encounter a feisty hitchhiker, Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who's convinced she's here by mistake and is in search of the People In Charge so she can make her case and return home. And suddenly, Zia's world doesn't seem so grim, as he realises it's never too late to start living, even after you're dead.

Wristcutters is billed as a black comedy, but I'm not sure it's really black enough or funny enough to merit that description (although there certainly are some funny scenes, especially those featuring Tom Waits in a typically bonkers cameo). Instead, it's more reminiscent of the kind of offbeat, gentle, wry, perceptive arthouse film that Johnny Depp made in the early '90s, in particular What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and the aforementioned Arizona Dream (which shares an obsession with Eskimos and a very similar soundtrack).

With its cavalcade of crazy characters and sense of personal quest, it's like a less fantastical version of Labyrinth or Mirrormask, or a less weird, less dark version of metaphysical mindtwister Donny Darko. But if that sounds downbeat, it's not meant to, because in this case, less is definitely more. Wristcutters: A Love Story may be about death, but it's certainly not depressing. Instead it's a truly charming, quirky, innovative and surprisingly life-affirming film, with a delightful and deeply satisfying ending that will definitely give you something to smile about.

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