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Denmark/UK/Sweden/France 2003
Directed by
Lone Scherfig
100 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself is the first English language feature from Lone Scherfig who directed the amusingly touching Dogme film Italian for Beginners. Here, without the Dogme constraints, she is able to bring more polish to lighting, cinematography and the soundtrack.

Wilbur (Jamie Sives) is a chronically pessimistic and depressed guy. He is the survivor of countless suicide attempts and regularly attends suicide support groups. After another failed attempt he moves in with his brother, Harbour (Adrian Rawlins), above a musty old second hand book shop in Glasgow. Everyone believes Wilbur needs a girlfriend but it is Harbour who unexpectedly falls for Alice (Shirley Henderson), a single mother who frequents the bookshop. As Wilbur, Harbour, Alice and her daughter Mary set up an unusual household together and begin sorting out the bookshop, the meaning for them all of life, love and death becomes more apparent.

Performances are mostly very strong, especially the three main leads. Sives brings out all the paradoxes of Wilbur’s personality and he is a highly engaging character. Rawlins injects Harbour with a perfect balance of empathy, frustration and tenderness. Shirley Henderson, a highly versatile actress brings out the nuances of gentle, vulnerable Alice, torn between two men, in a way that wrings the heart and makes her emotional dilemma something to sympathise with rather than moralistically disapprove of.

The chaotic bookshop which becomes a focal point of the film is convincingly visually evoked, but for me not quite so convincing is the hospital in which Wilbur so often finds himself. Mads Mikkelsen is a chain-smoking Senior Psychologist, and although he is a minor character I found him annoyingly unbelievable. Nurse Moira (Julia Davis) who hopes to become the object of Wilbur’s affections is a far more authentic character, and adds a gruellingly awkward realism to one crucial scene where the characters are forced to confront their worst fears in life.

Often, small films like this capture so honestly the paradoxes and conflicting emotions that make life such a challenging enigma. Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself is especially endearing in that it manages to reveal the warmth and humour in life, even in the face of seemingly great tragedy.




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