Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 06/15/03 12:51:25

"Death wish"
1 stars (Total Crap)

Danish director Lone Scherfigís follow-up to Italian for Beginners is an English-language film set in Glasgow. Wilbur is Euro-whimsy-by-numbers, with characters and situations that are grating, rather than ingratiating.

The titular Wilbur (Jamie Sives, with more than a passing resemblance to Robbie Williams) regularly attempts suicide in the attention-seeking manner of a spoilt child. Older brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) is measured and gentle and a little dull, to counteract his arrogantly handsome and petulant sibling. Harbourís saddled with that name because heís a protective home for the other troubled characters. When Harbour meets - and promptly marries - Alice (Shirley Henderson), things seem to be looking up. Then he receives some bad news, just as Alice begins reassessing her view of the difficult Wilbur.

I found the self-conscious quirkiness of Wilbur irritating in the extreme. Thereís a parade of one-dimensional background characters, from a dopey nurse with a new outlandish hairdo in every scene (Julia Davis) to a dour, chain-smoking Dane psychologist (Mads Mikkelsen). Alice is a single parent, so thereís an obligatory precocious child (Lisa McKinlay). The jokes in Wilbur are so clearly signposted, itís a wonder there isnít a laugh track. Writers Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen even offensively reduce suicide to a series of limp visual gags.

Sives and Rawlins are initially personable enough to negotiate the twee tone and sillier plot twists. I liked the idea of Wilbur as a nursery teacher beloved by his kids for being as immature as them. But any inkling of tolerance I had for the characters vanished when Wilbur took its mawkish nosedive into simpering disease-of-the-week territory. Scherfig proves fellow countryman Lars von Trier hasnít cornered the market on cinematic martyrdom in the region.

Iím not sure whether Wilbur is a maudlin film with a nasty streak, or a nasty film with a maudlin streak. Either way, I couldnít care less.

If the 50th Sydney Film Festival were a restaurant, Wilburís a heaped plate of haggis.

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