Directed by: Lone Scherfig | 104 minutes | drama, comedy | Actors: Jamie Sives, Adrian Rawlins, Shirley Henderson, Lisa McKinlay, Mads Mikkelsen, Julia Davis, Susan Vidler, Robert McIntosh, Lorraine McIntosh, Gordon Brown, Mhairi Steenbock, Andrew Townsley, Coral Preston, Colin McAllister, Owen Gorman
Wrong feel-good, ever heard of it? You get it with “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself”, a Danish-Scottish production that is hard to call a romantic comedy, but has more to it than the title suggests. The setting is gloomy Glasgow. Wilbur is a smooth boy with the looks and sarcasm of a Robbie Williams. He just lacks the self-love to make something of life. Brother Harbor is its apparent opposite. The good-natured, but also somewhat boring bookseller seems to put his life in the service of others, but does not know what to do with his own feelings.
Maybe it has something to do with Mother’s early death, but the brothers don’t seem very resistant to life. That calls for an angel and there will be, but clichés are particularly well avoided in this successful tragicomedy, while the set-up of the film is a potential minefield for dramatic slips. Just try to portray a number of suicide attempts realistically and keep the tone light-footed.
It works wonderfully. Because of the dry humor – often based on situation comedy – and the phlegmatic portrayal of Jamie Sives as a sympathetic suicide bomber who even manages to get away with women with the comment that a hair is sticking out of your nose. Shirley Henderson may shine in a modest way as a wife of Harbor; the subtle way this Alice confronts her husband after cheating on him produces an unforgettable powerful scene. Adrian Rawlins (“Breaking the Waves”; “Harry Potter”) is a more than decent harbor.
The subtlety with which drama, romance and humor are interwoven is in any case a strong point in “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself”. Director Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”) and fellow scriptwriter Anders Thomas Jensen make every effort to maintain the viewer at a fast pace; at the same time they try to map out human needs and shortcomings with the apathetic figure of Wilbur as the focal point. Scherfig and his associates succeed in this without it becoming too difficult for a moment, with the right timing for key emotional moments.
For example, the randomness of Wilbur’s suicide attempts in the loving environment of his brother’s family is as shocking as it is inept; the portrayal of the psychological care sector with a bizarre role of psychiatrist Horst (Mads Mikkelsen) – then again dryly funny. However, “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself” is especially permeated with tenderness for the well-meaning losers in this world; not based on sentimentalism, which would be the deathblow for a film with suicide as one of the subjects, but with black romance.