Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself



aka Wilbur / Wilbur begår selvmord : Denmark (Den/UK/Swe/Fr) 2002 : Lone SCHERFIG : 106 mins

In present-day Glasgow a tragic-comic love triangle unfolds between the suicidal title character (Jamie Sives), his brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) and single mother Alice (Shirley Henderson). Wilbur, in between suicide attempts, teaches nursery school children. Harbour runs the family firm, a dilapidated second-hand bookshop where Alice is a regular customer, making ends meet by selling the abandoned books she finds during her job as a hospital cleaner. Attracted to both brothers, she marries Harbour – only to find he’s secretly suffering from a life-threatening ailment.

A Danish film using mainly English actors and dialogue, the charm and wit of Wilbur is very much lost in translation – nearly everything about it feels distractingly awkward and stilted (from that bald mouthful of a title down to Wilbur and Harbour’s unlikely names) preventing the build-up of any kind of comic, romantic or dramatic momentum. It doesn’t help that the film is so plainly convinced of its own whimsical cuteness – the twee script is full of very strained ‘quirkiness’ in which joke after joke falls bafflingly flat, and the ‘funniest’ gag involves a drunken adult throwing up over a child’s party dress.

4th April, 2003
(seen 8th February, CinemaxX Berlin – Berlin Film Festival)

click here for an essay on Wilbur and its background as an English-language ‘foreign’ film

Or check out other film reviews from the Berlin Film Festival 2003.

by Neil Young