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Wristcutters: A Love Story

The Bittersweet Hereafter

Tales of failed suicide attempts, at least those most widely publicized, are almost always the same. The would-be victims think better of it, but only after it seems their fates have been sealed. Then, to their great relief, they are granted an eleventh-hour reprieve.

Zia (Patrick Fugit, of Almost Famous) isn’t so lucky. He slits his wrists fatally after a painful breakup, only to find himself in a duller, more depressing world than the one he departed. (In this case, Purgatory looks very much like the barren desert east of Los Angeles.) He gets a job at the kind of pizza parlor you’d avoid if you could help it. He spends his evenings at a lonely bar filled with fellow suicides, some of who enjoy showing off their scars. And he still pines after his ex.

Such is the lot of those who appreciate life so little that they couldn’t wait to get out. Shot in deliberately drab tones, Wristcutters: A Love Story may sound like a grim experience born of the malaise of screenwriter Goran Dukic, who also directs, but think again. Set in the kind of post-industrial wasteland normally reserved for geek shows like The Hills Have Eyes, it is darkly comical and even a bit magical, when it wants to be.

Zia learns that his ex has also committed suicide. He sets out on a road trip to find her -- without a clue where he’s going -- and along the way meets Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), a beautiful hitchhiker with a renewed lust for life. Those familiar with The Sure Thing might guess where this story is heading, but the beauty is in the journey, which includes a detour through an enchanted campground presided over by Tom Waits and a cultish compound governed (without a hint of irony) by "Arrested Development’s" Will Arnett.

While not exactly a buoyant fable, Wristcutters finds humor in its smaller moments, as when Mikal makes off with a sign informing shoplifters that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. (Even the afterlife requires a judicial system.) And yes, as its title suggests, it is a love story, too -- sweet and aggressively offbeat, populated by characters for whom romance seems like something from a way too distant past.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars