We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
If there’s one thing you need to know about Lone Scherfig, it’s that she isn’t afraid to kill off her characters. Granted, the Danish writer-director’s previous movie, 2000’s Italian for Beginners, was no Dawn of the Dead, but it did have a remarkably high body count for a romantic comedy. So it’s no surprise that a similar sensibility informs Scherfig’s latest, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself. In the first scene, Wilbur (Jamey Sives, a softer-featured Colin Farrell) downs handfuls of pills while bumbling around his Glasgow flat searching for a gas line to open. Successful, he phones to say farewell to his brother, Harbour (Adrian Rawlins), who rushes to the rescue. When Harbour arrives, Wilbur woozily hands him the phone so he can call the hospital—clearly, this isn’t Wilbur’s first semi-suicide. Once recuperated to his boorish self, Wilbur is released to Harbour, who, well, harbors him in his apartment behind the family’s dark and musty used-book shop, where the fetching Alice (Shirley Henderson) and her 10-or-so-year-old, Mary (Lisa McKinlay), stop by almost daily to hawk books to the two bachelors. Of course, romantic complications ensue, though even Wilbur’s most comedic moments are handled with Scherfig’s characteristic dryness. The movie’s schematic structure divides neatly: when Wilbur wants to kill himself, when he doesn’t. The first half is rougher, with Scherfig and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen’s script requiring Wilbur to be both charming enough to evoke empathy and sufficiently screwed-up to repeatedly try to end his life. It’s a combination that Sives doesn’t quite pull off: When one lovely lass gushes to Alice that Wilbur is “a rhino between the sheets,” she gives the only plausible reason a stability-seeking woman might be interested in him. The actor is better at giving us the newly life-embracing Wilbur of Act 2—a clichéd transformation that Sives nonetheless makes compelling. Indeed, by the time the characters share a tender Christmas meal, only one thing can spoil the coziness: You just know that, sooner or later, somebody’s gotta go.