EIFF 2014 – A Practical Guide to a Spectacular Suicide
After several failed attempts to commit suicide, a young Glaswegian named Tom (Graeme McGeagh) decides that he needs to step up his game and plan a Spectacular Suicide, as he is trying to do this he forms relationships and gets to grips with his suicidal nature.
I knew little about this film going in but had heard that it was a comedy and this was enough to pique my interest. I fully expected a really dark comedy so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered how upbeat it was. It certainly was a pleasant surprise and I was also astonished that there was such an upbeat film about suicide out there.
The character of Tom was a great protagonist who was very engaging and likeable. Much of his thoughts are given to us through a blog he has started where he details his plans to kill himself spectacularly. It’s a clever device for getting to know the character as he’s incredibly candid about how he thinks and feels, he is a guy who takes life pretty lightly and makes lots of jokes about suicide, poking fun at his earlier attempts and providing tips to bear in mind should you want to try it yourself. None of this should be funny but it’s presented in such a way that you can’t help but laugh at it.
Tom’s situation changes when he is saved from self imposed drowning and put into therapy as a result which is where we find one of the major relationships in the film. Dr. Watson (Patrick O’Brien) is quite an unorthodox therapist who is happy to sit quietly for the session considering Tom doesn’t want his help. The dialogue between the two characters is interesting layered, Dr. Watson seems disinterested which encourages Tom to work a little harder to bring himself across, he talks to simply fill the awkward silence which tells us that he’s somewhat lonely and perhaps desires attention. As the film progresses the relationship between the two characters deepens into a definitive friendship where Dr. Watson clearly cares about what happens to Tom. They really were a joy to watch and the conversations were laugh out loud funny. The running gag about the incompetent receptionist is priceless as well.
As his punishment for trying to commit suicide, Tom is assigned to help an old man named Mr. Neilson (Ray Crofter) around the house. Mr. Neilson is a difficult man to be around, clearly hardened by loneliness but there’s definitely a vulnerability to him that Tom manages to frequently bring out. In some way Mr. Neilson understands Tom and challenges him to understand himself. I like how real Mr. Neilson felt in that he isn’t purely the stereotypically grumpy old man and that he calms down to share life experience with Tom. I really like their relationship, it feels natural and the friendship builds really slowly.
Last but by no means least, Tom meets Eve (Annabel Logan) in the therapists office and they form a friendship when she offers to help him plan the Spectacular Suicide and he accepts. As a character she is fantastic, coming across as quirky and bubbly but with a hidden sadness that is never really developed. In fact, we don’t find out very much about her which is kind of the point. Her function in the plot is to show Tom how self centered he is and since the story is from his point of view, we don’t find out much about her because Tom doesn’t bother trying to find out. She also exists to show him that people will miss him if he dies. The two actors have amazing chemistry and incredibly natural interactions with smart and witty dialogue. Some of the best lines in the film come from her as well as the funniest moments.
Visually the film does some really cool stuff like the community theater style history lessons that are purposely cheap looking and poorly acted to add a strong sense of charm to those moments. The story about the sugar packet made me laugh a ,lot. Similarly the hand drawn animations that somehow always ended in crocodiles were hilarious and incredibly creative.
I loved this movie a lot. The characters were fresh and interesting with natural dialogue and smartly written interactions. I found myself laughing constantly throughout the movie, I’m glad that the film never crossed the line and became too dark because I’d have felt bad for laughing at his attempts. If the film set out to make me care whether Tom lives or dies then it absolutely succeeded.