Accidental Love (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Accidental Love (2015)

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Alice is living the dream.  She's well-liked at her job, has a loving family, and her hunky boyfriend proposed during a romantic evening.  But after a strange accident results in a nail gut shooting its payload into Alice's skull, she finds her emotions uncontrollable and her new fiancée distances himself from her condition.  She decides to go on a trip to Washington D.C. to lobby for a bill to help uninsured workers like herself.  Accidental love is written and directed by David O. Russell and stars Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Not a makeshift familyIt would be irresponsible of me to dismiss Accidental Love without considering the troubled production history behind it.  This was supposed to be writer / director David O. Russell's return to the big screen after his painfully whimsical 2004 film I Heart Huckabees.  Instead the production of Accidental Loved turned into a disaster with on-set disagreements, dissatisfied crew, and a lack of funding caused the shoot to run over two years.  Russell abandoned the project, created the Oscar-winning The Fighter instead, and has turned into Academy royalty since.

I add this preface because it's difficult to review a film which its creator eventually wanted no part in.  But it's easy to see the Russell's storytelling DNA in Accidental Love.  The plot is classic Russell, if a bit more screwball than normal, with an unconventional family forming amidst a weird crisis.  Some of the scenes capture the unstable energy which make Russell's best films a joy to watch.  So Accidental Love is definitely a Russell film, even if he wanted it to be credited to his pseudonym of Stephen Greene instead.

Jessica Biel is not what I'd call a great performer, but she does her level best to bring some sort of comedy out of the nyphomaniac she becomes.

Jessica Biel is not what I'd call a great performer, but she does her level best to bring some sort of comedy out of the nymphomaniac she becomes.

Even with his DNA in the mix and the troubled production history in mind I find it difficult to understand just what Russell saw of value in Accidental Love.  It's a terrible mess of slapstick comedy, broad political humor, and just a smidge of the kind of rough character development which earned some of his collaborators Oscars.  The speed which Russell moves from plot to plot is at best reckless and at worst desperate to connect disparate bits of humor which don't gel together easily.

I point toward the four credited screenwriters - Russell, Kristin Gore, Matthew Silverstein, and Dave Jeser - as a source of some of the potential troubles.  Multiple credited screenwriters on a single project does not typically spell out success.  Here it's easy to see where the problem comes in, as there are almost as many comedic styles as there are writers.  Accidental Love is a dark jab at Americana with a faux-'50s roller skate diner and heroic cops, but also a physical comedy driven by an accident Alice (Jessica Biel) has with a nail in her brain, a political farce involving a moon base that House whip Pam (Catherine Keener) needs Rep. Howard (Jake Gyllenhaal) to do some political maneuvering to pass.

This is a lot to take in, and the jokes built around each scenario don't work well with one another.  It's a total farce, but without the humor holding things together it falls apart between scenes because the farcical target shifts.  The editing is off as well, resulting in the physical comedy failing to produce much laughter.  The moment which starts the plot has Alice getting shot in the back of the head with a nail gun.  The individual shots are unusually long, leaving us to linger with the fact that Alice has been shot in the head before she's getting shuttled to surgery with some wacky doctors.  If the individual shots were cut a bit shorter it might have had a comedic whiplash effect.  As it stands we're just left with happiness, sudden brutal violence, and medical farce, in awkward succession.

There are still moments in Accidental Love which gel with Russell's earlier comedic work.  I liked one sequence where a girl scout troop creates a viral Youtube hit by mixing up body horror and dance dramas to a disgusting, but weirdly cute and funny, conclusion.  Other moments show care in the setup for visual punch lines, like the looming image of an animal doctor (Kirstie Alley) roped into surgically removing the nail in Alice's living room.  Those moments show how the farce could have been pulled off if some of the clutter, such as the myriad of political schemes going on, were trimmed or outright removed from the movie.  The presence of Tracy Morgan hints at the tone Accidental Love was going for, mixing character and comedy in a way which Morgan's biggest show 30 Rock did all the time.

Individual shots and moments work well but their effect is short-lived.

Individual shots and moments work well but their effect is short-lived.

But even if the issues with the tone were smoothed out, I'd still have problems with the central plot.  Alice's tragic head injury makes her into a nymphomaniac and every time she hits her head her mood drastically changes to something else.  This makes abuse to Alice necessary to provide shifts in the story, and considering how she is perceived as a tool to be manipulated by many other characters, it makes her continued physical damage a tragic extension of an uncaring universe more than something to laugh with.

Accidental Love is a mess, but it's easy to see just what Russell saw in the project to start with.  It's a dry run for Silver Linings Playbook, which similarly combined a large ensemble cast with personal quirks and medical problems, but Accidental Love doesn't have the emotional core which made Silver so enjoyable.  I'm sorry to learn about the difficulties Russell had with Accidental Love, but it doesn't look like he did much to save it either.

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Tail - Accidental LoveAccidental Love (2015)

Directed by David O. Russell.
Screenplay written by David O. Russell, Kristin Gore, Matthew Silverstein, and Dave Jeser.
Starring Jessica Biel and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. I had no idea this film even existed…the curious side of me kind of wants to seek it out now. I must admit I that while it is great to see O’ Russell evolve as a director, I find his 90’s works far more re-watchable than his current offerings.

    • Thanks for the comment Courtney. I’m with you, I miss the manic Three Kings and Spanking the Monkey spark. This was a rough continuation of the line he started with I Heart Huckabee.

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