Director Lone Scherfig was forever plucked from the obscurity of Danish
cinema with the 2000 Dogme hit "Italian for Beginners," which gathered
nominations and awards aplenty, among them the Silver Bear at the Berlin
International Film Festival. Her latest feature, the darkly funny and smart
"Wilbur (Wants To Kill Himself)" (IMDb listing), picks up the themes of happiness and
unhappiness from "Italian" and takes them a step further, turning out an
immensely touching story about life and death, and love in between.
Eternal pessimist Wilbur (Jamie Sives) wants to kill himself. Pills, gas,
hanging, drowning, he's tried it all, as yet without much success. His
perpetually optimistic brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) in turn has made it
his life's purpose to make Wilbur happy. A girlfriend is what's needed,
Harbour believes. It's an opinion shared by Horst (Mads Mikkelsen), the cynical
psychologist from Wilbur's self-help group, and Moira (Julia Davis), the
head nurse with an obvious crush on the enigmatic patient with the deadpan
wit and dark good looks. While Wilbur grapples with the intricacies of
dating, Harbour falls deeply in love with single mother Alice (Shirley
Henderson), and just when it seems things are taking a turn for the better
for everyone, fate strikes a blow that threatens to destroy their newfound
This is the first English language feature for Scherfig, who relishes the
freedom and familiarity working in Denmark affords her and strives to
balance it with the necessity of making commercially more viable films in
English, with only exceptionally good material luring her abroad.
An idea Scherfig hatched before "Italian" ever hit screens, "Wilbur" was
originally intended to be a Danish film as well, co-written by Scherfig and
accomplished screenwriter and fellow countryman Anders Thomas Jensen (whose
"Election Night" won a 1999 Academy Award for Best Short Film). Then the
opportunity of a Scottish-Danish co-production arose. The script was
rewritten and set in Glasgow, a lucky coincidence in hindsight that raised
the stakes of the story with the contrast between rich and poor
significantly starker in Scotland than Denmark, the director explains.
And it works a treat.
"Wilbur" is a pitch black comedy with a serious side, a film that impresses
with its cinematography and direction as much as with its impeccable
performances. Sives is a pleasure to watch, outstanding moments being
encounters with Davis' nurse Moira and her bodily orifices as well as
Mikkelsen's disenchanted Horst, while Rawlins and Henderson ("Trainspotting,"
"Bridget Jones," and the fabulous "Intermission") beautifully anchor the story.
Filmfodder Grade: A