Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself
"Reality takes a back seat in this oddball comedy."

Wilbur (Jamie Sives) is addicted to suicide, or rather, attempted suicide, because he's useless at it. He spends much of his waking life in a mental institution, insulting fellow depressives at group therapy sessions, where one of the nurses, a neurotic blonde with big teeth, can't wait to get him in the broom cupboard for an intimate one-on-one. When he's not being belligerent to the other dysfunctional misfits, he has a job as a child minder and lives above a second-hand bookshop in Glasgow with his brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins), after being hauled out of his council flat for misuse of a gas stove.

Reality takes a back seat in this oddball comedy, which means that writer/director Lone Scherfig (Italian For Beginners) can invent a world within a world that doesn't have anything to do with Scotland, or life in a Calvinist culture. There is a uniqueness about it that belongs in the imagination of this Danish filmmaker.

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Harbour is a good, kind, unambitious worrier who finds himself in charge of the bookshop after the death of their father from cancer. Wilbur has been left the establishment in the old man's will, which is a strange choice, since he couldn't run a tap, let alone a business. One of the regulars at the shop is a quiet, sad, single mother, called Alice (Shirley Henderson), who flogs them books left behind by patients at the hospital where she works as a cleaner.

This is a film about love, surprisingly. It takes a bit of time to make itself clear, not that it is ever clear-clear, in the way of Hollywood films, where everything is stereotyped and gags signalled miles in advance. Wilbur, the movie, embraces eccentricity as its style of choice, which brings a surreal element to proceedings.

Alice is lonely; Harbour is lonely; Wilbur is off his head. Habour loves Wilbur; Alice loves Wilbur; Wilbur can't decide. Harbour marries Alice. Wilbur stands on top of a building, contemplating the drop. Relationships are muddled and mixed up, because love can't stretch every which way, without snapping.

There are two problems in an otherwise charming film. The first is the character of Wilbur, who may be childlike and sweet with the kids, but essentially is self-obsessed and selfish. Sives looks like Robbie Williams, which may explain why Wilbur attracts women, and cleverly avoids the slightest hint of sentimentality. The second is Alice, who remains emotionally distanced, even drab and negative, which must have been torture for an actor of Henderson's vitality.

Finally, after the dust has settled and the tears dried, this is a Scherfig film, not a Scots comedy. It would have worked equally well in Copenhagen, where Wilbur's mental instability might have blazed as brightly.

Reviewed on: 16 Aug 2003
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A suicide addict, a bookish brother and a single mother emotionally interact in Glasgow.
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Jennie Kermode ***1/2

Director: Lone Scherfig

Writer: Lone Scherfig, Anders Thomas Jensen

Starring: Jamie Sives, Shirley Henderson, Adrian Rawlins, Lisa McKinlay, Mads Mikkelsen, Julia Davis, Susan Vidler, Coral Preston, Gordon Brown, Lorraine McIntosh

Year: 2002

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Denmark/UK/Sweden/France


EIFF 2003

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