Somewhere in the not-too-distant future climate change has created a near apocalyptic landscape and the world is covered in a cloudy haze that not even the most pleasant ray of sunshine can penetrate. Even in that magical land of romantics, croissants, and casual smoking/sex known as Paris, the moody new environment has become so overbearing that the suicide rate has skyrocketed. It’s gotten so bad that there’s really no sense in trying to stop the epidemic of self-imposed death. Instead, the French government has simply made it illegal to commit suicide in public, which means that a collection of delightful shops have opened up to offer customers a variety of options to off themselves. As you may have gathered by the title, this film takes place in one of those shops and with it being animated, it’s a musical comedy. That might seem like an odd choice, but did I mention that the movie is French? Never really depressing, the tone falls somewhere between the apocalyptic whimsy of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen and one of Sylvain Chomet’s exquisitely surreal animated farces. The Suicide Shop isn’t nearly as good as either of those two obvious influences of course, but simply being similar to those oddball masterpieces ensures The Suicide Shop is at least different than at least 98% of animated movies out there.
So who could possibly run one of these disturbing suicide shops, you ask? Why a happy family of course, who else?! The Addams Family inspired Tuvache clan has made suicide a family business. Pop in their store and they’ll sing you a song about all the delightful ways that you could end your misery from poison in your sleep, to samurai sword harakiri, and even setting yourself ablaze. Any member of this clan would be happy to sing a jaunty little tune to convince you death is the only answer and to make things easier they are all named after suicidal celebrities: Poppa is Mishima, Mommy is Lucrezia, and the children are Vincent and Marilyn. Obviously this family is cripplingly depressed themselves, but that just the way of this world and at least they are successful. Then one day Lucrezia suddenly and inexplicably gives birth to a new bouncing baby named Alain. For reasons only god and the anxious screenwriters know, Alain turns out to be a bouncing ball of joy in the dark world. He grows up almost instantly and starts showering the family with smiles and gifts, even (shudder) suggesting that maybe they shouldn’t be encouraging people to kill themselves. At first the Tuvaches laugh and scoff at that ridiculous notion, even fantasizing about murdering the obnoxiously happy little tyke. But he wears them down, eventually encouraging Marilyn to find love and bringing happiness to the suicidal Paris. Oh boy, this is going to be bad for business.
So, this is one of those “cake and eat it too” dark comedies that tries to have it both ways. For the first half of the film, the humor is sickeningly bleak, milking laughs out of the endless stream of customers that the Tuvache’s giddily encourage to off themselves. It’s quite morbidly funny and surreal to see that kind of material play out in a cartoon song and dance. However, once Alain enters the picture, the movie becomes sickeningly sweet, life-affirming, and far less interesting. Granted, starting with an intriguing premise and gradually becoming a conventional moral fable is the standard form for animated children’s fare. However, if you’re going to make a French animated comedy about a post-apocalyptic suicide shop, the rules should change slightly. And even though it’s sad and unfortunate to watch the amusingly pitch black comedy turn cheerful, it’s not a movie killer, just confirmation that it’s a project by filmmakers without much ambition. While the visual style is clearly heavily influence by Sylvain Triplets Of Bellville Chomet, it was made by Patrice Leconte. He has little background in animation and has made dozens of films in the French film industry that are well made without being particularly challenging. His version of The Suicide Shop is fluff and there’s nothing wrong with that. It still works and s offers a nice slice of cynicism with a smile, it just could and should have been more.
It’s also somewhat of a distraction that the 2D animation was clearly done on a computer rather than being hand drawn like a Sylvain Chomet picture. The visuals are appealingly professional, but feel churned out by a machine and the tacked on 3D really doesn’t add much given the 2D animation origins. Still despite its many problems, The Suicide Shop is filled with undeniably amusing moments (call me sick, but a cartoon father cheerfully encouraging his preteen son to smoke in the hopes of at least somewhat shortening his life is just flat out funny). In a way, it feels like a movie that exists purely to inspire Tim Burton to do a remake. All of his elements are there, the faux Chomet visuals could easily get a Burton facelift, Mishima is a role destined for Johnny Depp, the Hollywood happy ending is built in, and sadly that man is almost exclusively a remake specialist these days. Don’t be surprised if Burton signs up to remake this sucker by the end of the week. You may as well see the original version now before that happens. It’s unlikely the Burton version will be much better (which is a bit of a backhanded compliment to both parties), but there is definitely the kernel of a good idea in Suicide Shop that makes it worth seeing, even if something was lost in the execution.