Exactly like Tom Arnold in The Kid & I a few years ago, Patrick Fugit opens Wristcutters: A Love Story by methodically putting his living space in order, then settling down to commit suicide. The difference is, Fugit succeeds. Unfortunately for him, his act of despair over ex-girlfriend Leslie Bibb doesn't even come close to ending his angst; he promptly wakes up in a grubby, run-down limbo that's no different from his previous existence. "Who could think of a better punishment, really?" he grouses. "Everything's the same here, it's just a little worse."
On a meta level, first-time writer-director Goran Dukic has seized upon a brilliant framework for a low-budget indie movie: a setting (based on Etgar Keret's "Kneller's Happy Campers") where everything looks like it came from a low-budget indie movie. Everything is broken-down and dingy, from the cars to the furniture to the bleak desert landscape. The light is gray and desaturated, and the actors maintain a low-key, inert, unsmiling restraint. The film looks like it was shot on the cheap, but that's all part of the conceit, and part of the charm.
The story fits into the indie theme just as well: After moping around and proving that he's an excuse-filled loser in death as well as life, Fugit gets a crappy job at a pizza parlor and makes friends with a rough-edged, good-natured Russian rocker (Shea Whigham, playing a character partly based on Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hutz; even "his" songs are Gogol Bordello tracks). When Fugit learns that Bibb has also killed herself, the two go on a meandering road trip, hoping to find her. Along the way, they meet prickly hitchhiker Shannyn Sossamon, and the Daytrippers dynamic is complete, though there's a good dose of Beetlejuice's surrealism and faux-goth morbidity at play as well, and the Fugit/Whigham interaction mostly recalls Everything Is Illuminated.
For a film about suicide, Wristcutters is agreeably loopy and game. Dukic is bitterly funny rather than maudlin, and his carefully plotted grunge chic, in addition to being cheap, lends the film a great deal of Jim Jarmusch grime to go with its unmistakable Jim Jarmusch quirk. The film could make less-lazy use of Tom Waits and Will Arnett; Waits seems to be playing himself, while Arnett is Arrested Development's Gob again, right down to the magical theatrics. But that aside, it's a surprisingly playful romantic drama, one less about death than about the quiet, necessary grind of living.