A few months ago, I posted my top 20 films of last year. When discussing my top ten with friends, acquaintances and the occasional annoying cinema employee, many were extremely surprised that ranked third on my list, only behind "Into The Wild" and "No Country For Old Men", was an indie movie that made the film festival rounds in 2006, only to have its release repeatedly delayed and was eventually dumped into theaters for a week before disappearing. This was "Wristcutters: A Love Story", and though 2007 was a great year for films, I did not see one more heartwarming or life-affirming all year, and now that it has reached video, I feel I need to revisit it for the sake of persuading a few more people to see it.
The film starts off with Zia (Patrick Fugit, "Almost Famous") staring numbly into space. After cleaning his incredibly messy room, until not an object lies out of place, he calmly walks into his bathroom, slits his wrists and dies. Most comedies don't start like this; in fact, most dramas don't either, but this is not your average movie. We then follow Zia to what is presumably Purgatory, but looks more like New Jersey. Upon committing suicide, he discovers something incredibly ironic: "Everything here is just like it was before, it's all just a little bit worse." The only real differences between this world and the afterlife Zia resides in are that nobody in his world is able to smile, and everybody looks like they did when they died, the latter of which is used just enough to lend another dimension to characters without being gratuitous. Like on Earth, Zia falls into a routine: Lie in bed, go drinking with his friend Eugene (Shea Whigham), remember and miss his beloved Desiree (Leslie Bibb), repeat. We learn that Zia killed himself after Desiree left him, and when he finds out that Desiree too killed herself, Zia and Eugene set out on a road trip through the afterlife to find her. Along the way, they pick up Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a quirky young woman convinced she's there by mistake. From there, we follow the trio as they negotiate a strange host of characters, a black hole beneath a car's passenger seat, a camp run by a scatterbrained old man (Tom Waits) where miracles can happen as long as they're completely insignificant and a cult leader obsessed with separating his soul from his body; I will not spoil who that is, as it's one of the film's biggest laughs.
With a story like this (based on the short story "Kneller's Happy Campers", by author Etgar Keret) and a budget this low, the film is made or broken by its cast, and to that end, I can't think of a better one. Fugit, Whigham and Sossamon light the screen up with their chemistry, and as they travel along this wasteland, they become more endearing with every single scene. Whigham in particular is fantastic as the cynical ex-musician (his music played in the film is done by Gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello) who cares enough about Zia to travel with him but has trouble leaving his family, all of whom live together in the next life as well. The film is just long enough to make us care, and ends in the most satisfying, undeniably romantic ending to any film I've seen in years.
I can't speak highly enough of this film, and were I to go on any longer, I would spoil too much, so I'll just say that for all the "important" films I saw last year, few were even a sliver as meaningful as "Wristcutters", or possessed nearly as much heart.