Cinema Signal:

English Heritage, English Cinema:
Costume Drama Since 1980

. "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself"

You wouldn't think a romantic comedy so permeated with the theme of death could produce the laughs, but through the offices of a perceptive script, fine acting, droll humor and a sense of play about life and its romantic mysteries, it does. It's able handling of this emotional stew makes much of its mordant moments, while the depth of character that underlies it hints at a certain importance about the film.

To Wilbur (Jamie Sives), suicide is a given. Boring, normal people (like us) find his approach to it comedic. When he looks around at the contents of his life and finds hopelessness and despair, we don't understand why. We see promise, the affection and understanding of an older brother, and a male magnetism some women find irresistible. So why does he keep trying to end it all? He hangs himself, slashes his wrists, turns on the gas, steps up on the edge of a rooftop. And, by now, his suicide support group has rejected him as a serious member because he repeatedly fails to enter the big blackness.

He and his steady, good-natured brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins, "Breaking the Waves") are thirty-somethings who have inherited their father's second hand Glasgow bookstore and living quarters. They run the shop as best they can but it's evident that it's all held together by the unflappable Harbour (what's with such a role-defining name!) who is the opposite of Wilbur and makes every effort to protect him, mostly against himself. Harbour is a study in understanding, solidity and steady optimism. You wouldn't think this pair came from the same womb.

One day, into the bookshop, enters the soft spoken Alice (Shirley Henderson, "Topsy Turvy") to sell one of the last books in her rossession -- a near desperate move made to provide meager sustenance for herself and precocious daughter Mary (Lisa McKinlay). Mary's a pre-teener who is both well adjusted and bright as a sequin.

But when Alice and Harbour unhurriedly discover their mutual regard and affection, they marry and become a family. For the moment, this proves enough of a distraction to Wilbur to make him skip a day or two of suicide attempts. A line-up of women making inviting eyes at him hasn't been enough to sway him from his intentions, but Alice's and Mary's sudden introduction into the book store household hold self-harm in abeyance. Then, it becomes even more serious. Alice, it turns out, is not immune to his appeal, and a strange menage seems not too far away.

Danish writer-director-actress Lone Scherfig, with co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen, somehow finds voice in a mixing pot that might have become awkward and imbalanced. But dark comedy works it magic as the prime ingredient in this creative team's brew that is captivating in its sheer creative originality.

Henderson's softness of speech and manner finds a role here that is emphatically well suited to her, allowing more range and credibility than in her moustachioed turn in "Intermission" and her senseless sex object in "Once Upon a Time in the Midlands." Henderson is a waif of a girl (could play Holly Hunter's sister) who's talent is something worth watching. And so is Glasgow, a place she might as well call her hometown, a hotbed of movie making that imitates no one.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Jamie Sives as Wilbur: at it again

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