'Wilbur': Life lessons from an unlikely source
Special to The Seattle Times
Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) runs a quaint, floundering bookshop in Glasgow, and he tends to look on the bright side of life with a self-effacing, good-natured shrug. Wilbur (Jamie Sives) shrugs in the opposite direction. He's attempting to shrug off this mortal coil, and most of his attempts are treated with deadpan, black humor. He jumps in a lake, but it's only knee-deep. He gazes longingly over building ledges but doesn't jump.
Does he really want to do it? He's rescued from hanging by a turtle-ish woman named Alice, played by Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle from the "Harry Potter" films). Alice is frequently in the bookstore to sell books. She is raising a daughter by herself and works nights at a hospital, but loses her job when she arrives late once too often. Adrift, in choppy seas, she needs a safe Harbour and finds one. She marries him.
While the film's initial attitude toward suicide is unique — darker, even, than "Harold and Maude," since Harold was only pretending to commit suicide — it soon takes a detour into the conventional and serious-minded, particularly as death looms closer. Alice speaks for us all when she says of Wilbur's latest suicide attempt, "How dare he." Yet the dare — the film's dare more than Wilbur's — was half the fun, and its loss is to be mourned. The soundtrack never sounds so melancholy as when Wilbur decides to save a life rather than give one up.
Unexpected plot twists keep us interested, though, and there are several laugh-out-loud moments. The film also has strong secondary characters, particularly a morose-looking, Danish doctor named Horst (Mads Mikkelsen).
Writer/director Lone Scherfig's previous film was the Dogme95 feature "Italian for Beginners," in which a group of lonely people in Denmark find each other. "Wilbur" is her first feature in English (with a heavy Scots accent), yet, for "Italian" fans, it will seem familiar. "It's nice," says Harbour, at one point, "when people can get together when they don't have anyone else."
Scherfig is still doing it, in other words. She's still bringing lonely, good-hearted, working-class people together. Is this as deep as she goes? Yes, death sucks, she seems to be saying, but loneliness kills.
Erik Lundegaard: firstname.lastname@example.org
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