I kind of hate this movie. It’s your typical (or what has become your typical) “indie film” – more on that later. It’s also not emotionally effective, wastes some good Tom Waits tunes, and has a boring resolution. The best thing it has going for it is a pretty hilarious performance by the underrated Shea Wigham.
Set in some kind of post-suicidal afterlife/purgatory, Wristcutters follows Zia (Patrick Fugit) who has just – you guessed it – cut his wrists, as he searches for his former, real-life girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb) whom he learns has also killed herself. He meets Eugene (Wigham) and Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon) along the way, turning the film into a road movie. There’s some kind of magician/god/cult figure played by Will Arnett (the Messiah) and appearances by Waits and John Hawkes. There’s also a hole under the passenger seat in Eugene’s car that leads to nowhere.
It’s all imaginative and there are the requisite suicide jokes, but man is this film annoying.
The typical indie film: it’s unfortunate that this is even a genre – or a set of characteristics, which is more accurate. When I think of indie I like to think of earlier, United Artists-led Hollywood, and then into the 1950s with films like Little Fugitive. Some Cassavetes works its way in there. John Sayles. And eventually into the Hollywood-izing of the independent, with sub-sections of the conglomerates coming into the picture (Fox Searchlight, etc). That evolution, or whatever you want to call it, is all well and good and many a great film have come out of each of the aforementioned eras.
The problem now is, and I’m not really saying anything new, that independent film is less of a reflection of actual creation outside of any organized “studio” as it is a reflection of aesthetics. Through a long and twisting series of 1990s and post-2000 films, we get a film like Wristcutters, which is certainly low budget (imdb lists it as $1 million) and, according to any brief internet searching I could do has no major-market affiliate. It also doesn’t feature any huge stars. So by all accounts outside of the realm of micro-budget and “non-professional” this is an independent film. Yet it gains its stamp – and my guess, thereby its following – not through surprisingly sharp writing (think Sayles’ Return of the Secaucus Seven), but by its adherence to what has become a predetermined, almost coded, style.
Hiding the weak writing (poorly developed characters, romances that are a bit of a leap, meandering plotting, and a useless climax) are cheap cinematic devices (ie the changing color palette as the story progresses) and insipid intended metaphors (ie the hole under the passenger seat, which functions sort of like that “infinite abyss” in Garden State). The fact that we learn very little new about each characters and that they are essentially treated as cutouts (the man who’s crazy but is actually caring, the girl who’s aimless but actually has an aim, the man who thinks he loves one woman but really had his love under his nose the whole time…) doesn’t help. In past blogs I’ve talked too much about the use of montage and music in films that fall into a type similar to this, so suffice it to say that that’s all in here, too. And lastly, maybe the biggest offender, is the general characterization that everyone in this film has to have some deep, underlying hurt that surfaces as a brusque or aloof trait, but is eventually revealed to be a real and honest angst that they’ve kept hidden below for oh so many years…