Sunday, June 3, 2012

REVIEW: I Don't Want To Kill Myself

Northside Film Festival’s DIY Competition
June 20th, 5:40 PM

I didn't write the review I was intending a while back, but I spotted that the movie is being screened later this month at the Northside DIY Competition, which will be screened on June 20th at the Nighthawk Cinema. So, I can tell you about this fantastic movie. Hooray!

OK, so straight up, the extremely bleak title (perhaps an heir to Wristcutters: A Love Story) is not as bad as it sounds. The story is this: The young main character, James (Luke Humphrey) pretends to try to kill himself to cover for a DUI for his friend Coop (Mike Steinmetz), and is sentenced to go to a suicide support group, run by the good-hearted but eccentric Vanessa (Carleigh Welsh).

There, he makes close friends with the glib jokester Aaron (Luke Sacherman) and forms a relationship with the frosty and jaded Emily (Martini Connelly). At first, it all seems like a joke, but as the reality of what a suicide support group can be like, it disrupts all of those relationships in radically different ways.

And along the way, it's absolutely hysterical (sometime bitterly so, but sometimes just plain funny), and absolutely real. It threads the needle very well, because it takes suicide seriously -- never making light or being offensive towards people who have deep issues in their lives -- while still finding what's funny and absurd about this world.

Is there room for another bitter-sweet comedy about young people thinking the world is ending? Turns out, if the movie is this one, yes.

The great thing about both the screenplay (by Colby Day and Nathaniel Katzman) is that you're not watching generic characters go through this story (with the possible exception of James, who seems like the everyman entry into this world). The characters are vividly painted and crafted, and the moments -- which flow in a very true to life pace -- shine lights on very small aspects of life that are just pleasing to watch.

Take, for example, the character of Coop. He's not actually one of the main characters of the piece, and his relationship to James is at best a side plot. Luckily, the filmmakers have brought together some of his moments together into a 5 minute clip:

Watching Coop's relationship to this sign-flipping job, and how he relates to his friend through it; watching Coop's perverse reaction to other peoples' suffering, watching how he relates a story at a party -- it all has a great rhythm that makes even content which is not the world's most heightened drama enjoyable and worth sitting with.

Another great example is Vanessa, the group leader. Her character begins the movie as a running joke -- a purely comic character whose eccentricity provides some great laughs. But as James' relationships deepen from a superficial understanding of other people around him, so too does Vanessa become truly three-dimensional -- still extremely funny, but from a place of truth. She's not just eccentric -- she's driven to extremes because of the extremely high stakes. She needs one -- just one -- of these suicidal young people not to kill themselves.

Lastly, I couldn't close out this review without talking about Aaron's incredible performance. Like the movie as a whole, he manages to be exceptionally funny until those moments when he needs to reveal a deep serious pain, and without him, the third act of the movie probably fall short.

It's always interesting to see a movie like this, because I have a tendency to forget how many small worlds there are inside of this world; each of which reveals the broader world through the areas which it takes to extremes. The world of rehabilitation (which I also enjoyed viewing through the lens of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) is useful, because it grapples with this central question -- how much can people expect to change themselves, and what do we have to hope for? The only answer the movie can proffer is that it's really just a trust in other people and a connection to those people that can bring us through.

See, it's not all just jokes about how hard it is to hang yourself properly.