William (Chad Lindberg) is such an inept loser that he can’t even kill himself properly. Oh, he tries, all right. Each night, the aspiring children’s book writer-turned-pathetic whiner gets himself all liquored up and drags himself to the edge of his apartment’s rooftop. He teeters there for awhile, pissing and moaning at the world, before stumbling back inside where he wakes up the next morning and trudges off, late and hungover, to his nowhere job as a parking lot attendant.
Lily’s (Ashley Johnson) not doing much better. Once a bright and attractive model student and cheerleader, Lily’s life has taken a decidedly darker turn since her mother’s own recent suicide. Nowadays, this good girl-turned-Goth chick derives what little joy she gets out of life by taking her mother’s car on illegal joyrides through the cemetery and embalming the school mascot. When, after running away from home, she winds up inside William’s trashed out apartment, where he discovers her the next morning, it’s a match made in Hell.
Whether out of affection or empathy, the two gradually forge an unlikely bond; a pact made even more tragicomic by Lily’s single-minded determination to help William finally succeed at something: killing himself. Our young un-lovers embark on her plan like a couple planning a wedding, mapping out the Big Event in all its details: Where’s it going to take place? What’s the date? And, most importantly, whom do they want to invite to witness William’s triumphant demise? Alas, as other feelings begin to get in the way, these issues as well as relative questions about success and failure begin to become a lot murkier.
“The Failures” is a decent, if unremarkable, stab at black comedy from director Tim Hunter. Yet, the film perhaps inevitably struggles under the burden of having as its leads two utterly unsympathetic characters. Sure the performances are admirable and yes, the kids ultimately turn out to be alright, but only after we have to endure their sniveling and whining for about an hour and a half instead of watching them pull themselves up by their jock or bra straps and get on with their lives.
While the eminently watchable Michael Ironside adds an extra layer of gravitas to this otherwise flyweight film with his glowering turn as the personification of William’s depression, “The Failures” proves once again just how difficult it is to mix death — particularly suicide — with comedy and come out with a winning recipe.
The film’s title notwithstanding, “The Failures” isn’t exactly a failure, per se. But it’s not exactly a success either.