Monday, July 29, 2019

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #223 - Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006, dir. Goran Dukić)

            While the title of the film may be a touch off putting, the actual movie Wristcutters: A Love Story is far from it. The film is labeled as a “black comedy road movie” which pretty much hits the nail on the head. When describing the film to people I would say that kid from Almost Famous, that girl from A Knight's Tale and a guy who reminds you of Gogol Bordello front man Eugene Hütz set off on a road trip to find an ex-girlfriend and the “people in charge” in the afterlife. Along the way they meet a real cast of characters, jam out to some great road trip tunes and discover that maybe there is a way to get out of this dull version of the world of the living.
            I guess the first thing I should address is the fact that this movie is about people who commit suicide. There is no shying away from talking about suicide in the film; in fact you find out exactly how every character “offed” themselves. In the opening scene Zia (Patrick Fugit) gets up, puts on Tom Waits' “Dead and Lovely,” deep cleans his apartment, goes into the bathroom, and slits his wrists. Zia ends up in this shitty version of the world of the living, where there are only off-brand products, everything is dim, there are no stars, and no one can smile. Zia meets Eugene (Shea Whigham), a Russian musician who lives with his mother, father and younger brother - all of whom “offed” themselves. Zia learns from a friend that his ex-girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb) has also “offed” herself. Eugene and Zia take off to find her in Eugene’s beat up car. The car itself is a character. The headlights don’t work and there is no mechanic that has ever been able to fix them; there's also a black hole of sorts under the front passenger seat - you drop something down there and it’s gone forever. The trio loses sunglasses, cassette tapes, lighters, maps, and flowers into this black hole.
Eugene and Zia pick up Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon) who is looking for the “people in charge” and insists that she is there by mistake, claiming she accidently overdosed. The trio encounter a man asleep in the middle of the road (Tom Waits) who introduces himself as Kneller and invites them back to his camp where "miracles" seem to happen. If there is one thing I love about Waits it’s that he pops up in films and proceeds to just be his odd Tom Waits self, almost like the film makers just let the cameras roll on him being himself. Not far from this camp is a large gathering of people who are there to witness Messiah King (Will Arnett) perform the “miracle” of separating his soul from his body. Arnett gives off some serious G.O.B. (his character from Arrested Development) vibes as Messiah King. I’m not going to give away the ending, because honestly it cracked me up the first time I saw it, and hopefully the hard left turn in story line will crack you up as well.
            I can’t talk about this film without talking about the music in it. What’s a good road trip movie without some seriously great tunes? Even before the road trip there are very strategically chosen songs in the film. Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and Christian Death’s “Deathwish” are heard playing in the bar Zia and Eugene frequent. Both bands were fronted by singers who committed suicide and it seems these songs were chosen exactly for that reason. Artie Shaw’s version of “Gloomy Sunday” - also known as the “Hungarian Suicide Song” - makes an appearance in the film. The song's lyrics of longing for a past lover and a vow to meet back up in the afterlife fit in with Zia’s drive to find his ex-girlfriend Desiree. Del Shannon’s “Cry Myself to Sleep” and Gram Parsons' “A Song for You” add to the melancholy feeling of the film. A cassette tape of Eugene’s band (pre-“offing” himself) provides most of the soundtrack for the drive. The fictional band is in reality gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. This was my introduction to Gogol Bordello, and more specifically the song “Through the Roof 'N' Underground” which is featured multiple times and also happens to be my favorite of their songs. The slow-moving, twangy, somewhat sad song fits in perfectly with the drab, desolate desert world the characters find themselves road tripping through - there is even a fun little singalong in the car to it! The character of Eugene is based in part on Gogol Bordello front man Eugene Hütz, which makes sense seeing as three of their songs are in the film. "Occurrence on the Border" and "Huliganjetta" are both featured, though not as heavily as “Through the Roof 'N' Underground.”
            Wristcutters: A Love Story was one of the first “black comedy” movies I felt like I understood both the black and the comedy parts. The use of a very bleak setting for this version of the afterlife plus the fact that the characters were still put in situations that are humorous give the film a lighter touch. I say it is well worth a watch, not just for the soundtrack and wonderful cast of characters but also the idea that even in this afterlife there is a chance these characters will find love and possibly a happy ending.
-         Anna Lathem

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