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‘Wristcutters’ discovers life and love after death

In an era in which movie plots often seem like variations on the same theme comes a breath of fresh air called “Wristcutters: A Love Story,” a shaggy dog of a comedy about life and love after death -- in this case, life and love after suicide.

A film festival favorite that has picked up several awards on the circuit over the last 18 months, “Wristcutters,” which opens Friday, revolves around Zia (Patrick Fugit), a young man who committed suicide by slashing his wrists. The afterlife is sort of a quirky version of real life -- menial jobs, bad bars, equally bad transportation, desolate towns, deserted freeways and an arid wasteland of desert.

Zia finds himself working at a pizza joint, but when he discovers that his former girlfriend (Leslie Bibb) has also committed suicide, he sets out with his friend, a Russian would-be rock star (Shea Whigham), and a hitchhiker (Shannyn Sossamon) who believes she’s in this netherworld by mistake to find the love of his life. Along the way, the trio encounter a mysterious man (Tom Waits as Kneller) who isn’t quite what he seems. Based on the novella “Kneller’s Happy Campers” by an Israeli author, Etgar Keret, “Wristcutters” marks the feature debut of Croatian writer-director Goran Dukic.

Dukic, who had previously met the author through a mutual friend at a book reading in L.A., loved the novella and contacted Keret. “I told him, ‘I don’t have any cash to buy the rights, but can you give me the rights for free?’ He told me, ‘Goran, I have offers from Germany and France, and I tell everybody the same thing: If you write the script and I like it, I’ll give it to you to direct.’ Nobody wrote a script because it’s pretty tricky to write a script without the rights, but I did and he loved it and gave me the rights.”

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Because the film’s budget was under $1 million, Dukic says, the biggest challenge was creating this offbeat universe. Dukic, the producer and the film’s art department looked all over Southern California. “Most locations are exactly how we found them,” he says. “We shot the city part in downtown Los Angeles, which I thought was perfect, and then the landscapes are Palmdale, Lancaster and the ugly part of the deserts, which I thought were very appropriate for the setting.”

-- Susan King


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