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Jay Richardson

Published December 19th, 2003 | by Jay Richardson

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself Review

Classification: 15 Director: Lone Scherfig Rating: 4/5

A wonderfully pitched black comedy, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself is a charming oddity. Ostensibly set in Glasgow, the shots are so tight and the locations so general, that this story of one man’s failed attempts to commit suicide has universal charm. Directed by Danish helmer Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners), Wilbur has much of the bleak absurdity of the Dogme movement but is undercut by a warmth and sweet humour that will make it accessible to a wider audience.

Wilbur (Jamie Sives) is determined to commit suicide. After several unsuccessful attempts he is kicked out of his therapy group for impeding the progress of his fellow oddballs. Evicted from his flat for being careless with the gas (another botched effort), he is taken in by his brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins), who runs the struggling bookshop left to them by their recently deceased father. Whilst Wilbur is narcissistically self-destructive, constantly scaring customers away, his older sibling is kind and self-sacrificing to a fault, and there’s a strong bond between the pair.

Encouraged by Wilbur’s jaded German psychologist Dr Horst (Mads Mikkelsen) and his slightly loopy, not to mention lovestruck therapy nurse (Julia Davis), Harbour decides Wilbur needs a girlfriend. But it’s Harbour’s bachelor existence that gets unexpectedly cut short, as he falls for and marries Alice (Shirley Henderson), a timid single mother who works as a hospital cleaner, visiting the shop to sell books left by patients. She and daughter Mary (Lisa McKinlay) move in and this unusual family unit gets closer, perhaps too close between Wilbur and Alice, but then Harbour discovers something terrible …

The darkness of the laughter is balanced by characters suffused with so much tenderness that failing to enjoy this film is impossible. Individual motivation is often cloudy but this is part of the fun. Why is Wilbur suicidal? Why is Harbour so unrelentingly good, Rawlins playing it engagingly straight as a steady foil to his more capricious brother. Similarly, Henderson is a gifted actress capable of far broader emotional range than displayed here, but she is perfectly cast as the mousy yet attractive Alice. And the support roles are finely judged, particularly the slowly thawing Horst, compounding the feeling of an isolated world like ours, but thankfully, not quite.

Wilbur however, hinges on the one man everyone else revolves around. In the central role, and as he showed in One Last Chance, Sives is eminently capable of playing angry yet vulnerable, sad but roguishly handsome. He is a minor danger to the kids he teaches as a nursery nurse and largely resists female advances, but everyone is inescapably attracted to him, even Alice who knows she’s onto a good thing with the worthy Harbour. By rights Sives should have a big future, though whether as a character actor or leading man remains to be seen. If Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself is the proof of what a British comedy can be with a Scandinavian sensibility, then more of this soon please.


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