Road trip through the afterlife? Dude, let’s totally go!

A charming little ‘slice’ of dark indie comedy

by Kara Nesvig

Who doesn’t love the notion of a road trip? Endless ribbons of highway, windows open, the breeze blowing through your hair, images of Kerouac, Steinbeck and Thelma and Louise dancing through your head while the radio plays old Motown classics and your passengers joyfully sing along in the backseat. Well, gee, that sounds just like a movie scene!

“Wristcutters: A Love Story”

Starring: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, Tom Waits
Rated: R
Showing at: Lagoon Cinema, 1320 Lagoon Ave., Minneapolis.

Ah, but wait a minute – what if your little jaunt took place in some sort of purgatory reserved solely for suicide victims? A drab and gloomy sort of place where everyone’s dully lit and pallid and can’t crack a smile, where the mechanic slit his wrists in the hot tub and the policeman sent a bullet through his head during Vietnam? Or where the popular bar game is not poker or pulltabs but “Guess How They Did It?” Imagine that! What a vacation that’d be!

That’s just the premise of the fanciful little indie comedy “Wristcutters: A Love Story,” which just so happens to take place in a limbo for lost souls that looks a lot like an Arizona wasteland. After slitting his wrists in an act of brokenhearted desperation, Zia (the absolutely adorable and now very grown-up Patrick Fugit from “Almost Famous”) finds himself half-heartedly slinging pizzas in this dingy unnamed locale as he reminisces about his picturesque past with ex-girlfriend Desiree. He’s constantly wondering whether or not she cried at his funeral, or if she misses him, but then he hears she’s done herself in too and is wandering about their in-between world searching for him.

So what does he do? He saddles up Russian best pal Eugene (hilarious Shea Whigham, playing a character based on Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello), hops in Eugene’s junk heap of an automobile and sets out to reunite with his ladylove.

On their way the two encounter gorgeous hitchhiker Mikal (the stunningly lovely Shannyn Sossamon), who joins them on a quest of her own; she wants to get back to real life, insisting her suicide was a mistake. She’s heard rumors about the “people in charge” and she’s determined to find them. Plus, throwing a girl into the mix makes for a few fun romantic entanglements.

Like all good road trippin’ flicks, their path is full of twists and turns. There’s a black hole underneath the passenger seat that has a greedy habit of swallowing up sunglasses, maps, and cassette tapes. The headlights don’t work. They join up with gravelly-voiced paterfamilias Kneller (Tom Waits in a delectable supporting role) and his camp of miracle-working misfits, and discover hidden feelings and unanswered questions before encountering a Messianic cult figure simply called “King,” played amusingly by “Arrested Development’s” beloved Will Arnett, who throws their plans into a tailspin.

For sure their current environment isn’t all that ideal – no smiling, blasé thrift store castaway ensembles, a few unfortunate battle wounds and scars, a constant feeling of “in-between” – but the residents of this halfway world eventually make their lives a lot happier and find what they didn’t know they were looking for.

“Wristcutters: A Love Story” is a sweet little tale despite its dark premise; the characters are endearing in all of their quirkiness; the storyline is amusing and the actors are fabulously entertaining. Sure, it’s one of those peculiar indie comedies that you’re sure you’ve seen elements of a million times before, but it’s a lovely, unexpected romance too. It’s not going to change the world or sweep the Oscars, but it’s probably going to make you smile and appreciate the fact that your facial muscles can indeed form such a grin.