American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
It strikes a note of optimism, I suppose, that "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself" is not titled "Wilbur Kills Himself." Wilbur certainly tries desperately enough, with pills, gas, hanging, and teetering on the edge of a great fall. But he never quite succeeds. He is saved more than once by his brother Harbour, and on another occasion by Alice, who interrupts his hanging attempt. By this point we begin to suspect that "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself" is not about suicide at all, that Wilbur is destined for better things, and that despite its title, this is a warm human comedy.
The movies takes place in Glasgow, that chill city where many views are dominated by the Necropolis, the Gothic cemetery on a hillside overlooking the town. Such a view must be a daily inspiration for Wilbur (Jamie Sives). He is from time to time a patient at a local psychiatric clinic, where the therapists seem to have limited their studies to viewings of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." His hopes depend on his brother, Harbour, who loves him, tries to save him from himself, and brings him home to live with him. Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) runs the used bookstore left him by his father. It is a shabby but inviting place, its windows following the curve of the road, its stock in a jumble. There seems to be only one customer, a man who visits almost daily, demanding Kipling and is invariably told that there must be some Kipling around here somewhere, but Harbour can't put his hands on it.
Another frequent visitor wants to sell, not buy. This is Alice, played by Shirley Henderson, that luminous actress from "Trainspotting," "Bridget Jones's Diary," "Topsy-Turvy" and half a dozen others; do not be put off that she played Moaning Myrtle in "Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets." She brings in books that were left behind by patients at the hospital where she works, but the books are really an excuse for seeing Harbour, who she feels a strange affinity for; perhaps they met in earlier lives, since Rawlins played Harry Potter's father.
In no time at all Alice and Harbour have fallen in love. Alice and her daughter Mary (Lisa McKinlay) bring order to the store, so that Kipling can easily be found, and then Alice and Harbour are married. That leads to rather cramped living conditions in the small flat above the store, where Wilbur is also established.