Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, Lone Scherfig’s English-language follow-up to her international Dogme success Italian for Beginners, released here in early 2002, is a kindred exercise in ensemble cheer and cozy humanism—not as sentimental as it might be but cheerfully affirmative in dispelling the darkness of its premise.
Wilbur (Jamie Sives), a disaffected and unaccountably adored Glasgow nursery school teacher, makes two foiled suicide attempts before the opening credits end. “It gets more and more humiliating every time I survive,” he tells his older brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins), who brings him home to live with him in a flat behind the ramshackle bookstore he’s inherited from their father. As his name suggests, Harbour is a safe haven. In addition to sheltering Wilbur, he takes in the distracted hospital cleaner Alice (Shirley Henderson), a wee grave thing with a wise 10-year-old daughter (Lisa McKinlay). Alice further endears herself to Harbour by thwarting Wilbur’s attempt to hang himself. She and Harbour marry; having failed to drown himself in a puddle, irrepressible Wilbur cuts his wrists on their wedding night.
Life is basically an extension of the hospital and Scherfig is something of an indulgent nurse prescribing a dose of whimsy for everything from suicide and cancer to infidelity and Christmas Eve. The result is less morbid than an eccentric mixture of the mawkish and primal. As everyone gets to cuddle their inner cutie-pie, Scherfig turns matchmaker, contriving to have her characters pair off before the unconvincing closer.