Wilbur Movie Review

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Wilbur is about suicide, but at the same time, it's nothing about suicide. Sure, the title character (newcomer Jamie Sives) hangs himself, slits his wrists and, in the movie's first scene, floods his apartment with gas and waits to die. The movie focuses on the power of family bonds and finding oneself. Suicide is treated as a starting point to a movie with a quiet emotional power and depth that lasts long after the plot problems pass and inconsistencies fade.

To prevent further incidents, Wilbur's kindly older brother, Harper (Adrian Rawlins), takes Wilbur in. Harper runs (and lives) in his late father's old Glasgow bookstore. Business is not good. There appear to be just two steady customers: An old man hungry for anything by Kipling, and a pale, whisper-quiet woman named Alice (a very good Shirley Henderson) who trades the books she finds at her depressing hospital job for quick cash.

As Wilbur struggles with group therapy and himself, Alice, who saves Wilbur from hanging himself, and Harper marry. She brings along a young daughter, and the new arrangement brings stability and purpose to Wilbur, especially after Harper is stricken ill. Harper's turn for the worse threatens to ruin everything, as Alice and Wilbur also use each other for more than emotional support.

While you get an intense look at people working inside a crisis, director Lars Scherfig (of Italian for Beginners, in his English language debut) and co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen are so determined to get us to those conflicts that we're sometimes sped from plot point to plot point. How did Wilbur get a job watching kids? Why did Harper and Alice marry so quickly? Harper's illness comes out of nowhere and we never fully understand Wilbur's motivation behind his suicidal tendencies. Harper explains them to Alice, but it feels like a footnote. The scene isn't filled with enough urgency. It's too understated.

At the same time, that low-key nature makes Wilbur worthwhile viewing. There are moments where the characters become human, if for just a moment, in quiet, but powerful ways: Alice's look of quiet despair as she scrubs blood from a hospital floor, the ripple of terror on Harper's face when his stepdaughter asks if he'll be sleeping in Wilbur's room, the frantic preparation for a kid's birthday party. And then there's Harper's bittersweet attempt to save his younger brother's life one last time. There weren't many scenes like that in last year's supposedly brilliant character studies: Lost in Translation and the colossally overrated Mystic River.

In those moments, supported by three stellar performances, Wilbur outshines its flaws and becomes something pretty special.

Aka Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself.

Wilbur wants to become a pancake.

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Wilbur Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2002

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