Billy Conway (Harrison Gilbertson) is plagued with an unlucky family. In his youth, a tragic car accident led to the death of his sister Linda and put one of his two twin brothers, Gene, in a coma. Years later, his parents (Geena Davis and Joel Tobeck) are getting divorced, the remaining twin Larry (Harry Cook) is antagonistic and distant, and Billy is lost at sea in a small town with nothing to do. When his mother is briefly hospitalized for chronic back pain, he stays with Gene's former best friend Doug Post (Sebastian Gregory), and the two of them get into trouble that sends everyone's lives spiraling into another series of escalating incidents.
Like a terrible disease, "quirky" has swept through the independent film world, infecting everything it touches. This wouldn't automatically be a bad thing, but the modern idea of quirky is apparently cutesy dysfunctionality that could easily be resolved with a couple of conveniently rash decisions and an occasional quiet moment. I was okay with Napoleon Dynamite, which was both pitched as a pure comedy and had a measure of genuine oddness to it (some, if not all directly attributable to the great state of Idaho). Then along came Little Miss Sunshine, a movie that everyone else loved but I thought was a stream of calculated "quirkiness", with a thick coating of "aren't-we-so-witty" pretension to boot. I was in a promotional fan chat with Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright once, and he referred to the movie as National Lampoon's Arthouse Vacation, which perfectly sums up what I think is wrong with it: it's a crowd-pleaser disguised as a sharp slice of incisive dramedy, and its rise to massive popularity was disappointing to me.
I can't tell if it's my growing dislike of the term or the movie itself, but I wouldn't call Accidents Happen quirky on my own. However, it appears to have been sold in the same vein as Sunshine and Juno, and there are definite stylistic crossovers between those movies and this one. The difference is that writer Brian Carbee wants to follow through, to take these characters down roads that aren't easily reversible with a little openness and honesty. It's not necessarily the kind of journey that viewers will be prepared for: events occur in the film that are pure dramatic darkness, but director Andrew Lancaster always pitches the film with the verve and buoyancy of those other comedies. It's such a bizarre, implacable combination that it's hard to keep a grip on what the film is going for, but it mostly works; the viewer will be laughing and holding their breath at the same time.
The eventual DVD box and teaser have no doubt placed emphasis on Geena Davis as the star, and she's certainly still great at handling both the dramatic touches, and several heaping handfuls of vaguely confusing sarcastic zingers. But Davis' role is a supporting one, and the movie really rests on Gilbertson and Gregory as Billy and Doug, who are desperate to recapture the freedom of childhood that life has robbed them of. Gilbertson is a tad passive, but Gregory is particularly good, balancing all of the movie's many moods in his character's head. Just like the homoerotic undertones, the movie knows that kids are flexible, emotionally resilient people, and that a huge, major fight may be important one day and meaningless the next, and thusly doesn't feel the need to turn every major detail of their interactions into a major plot point. Their trepidatious friendship is all over the map, even brushing on the vaguest possibility of homosexuality. Not only is it done naturally, but it's impressive in and of itself, as movies so rarely just hint at themes -- particularly one that might set off the extremely prudish public -- if there isn't going to be a major reason for it.
Lancaster and cinematographer Ben Nott have a style that's both colorful and vivid, putting the characters into an '80s that has a real visual pop to it without covering up the slightly crappy touches of lower-middle-class suburban housing. Lancaster adds to this with several lucid-dream like slow-motion scenes during important moments, and makes attempts to find interesting shots in mundane settings. The teaser trailer I saw for the film a few months back was accompanied by the song "Blood" by The Middle East, which also makes a well-timed appearance in the movie. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that composer Antony Partos worked his score around the song, because my memories of the movie feel consumed by the song, but in any case, it all works together well.
I could say more about Accidents Happen, but it would all be plot-related, and I feel as if the movie contains more than enough surprise in its 92-minute running time that I should preserve those for the viewer. The offbeat tone of the movie prevents it from being an easy recommendation for everyone, but it's a movie that desires to give its audience an entertaining, breezy experience without the deep-seated fear that none of them could possibly be prepared for major dramatic speed bumps along the way. The title sounds kind of corny and pat on the outside, but it fits: life is not "quirky" and easily controllable. People get hurt, and sometimes it's serious. But that's the journey, and if you're holed up, unprepared for things to go wrong, what are you really doing?
The DVD, Video, Audio, and Extras
Image provided a screener of Accidents Happen for review, which actually has the science-fiction B-movie Eyeborgs on it. I'm just speculating here, but I'm guessing that the final version of Accidents Happen will not include Eyeborgs, unless there's a contingency of Geena Davis/Danny Trejo crossover fans I'm unaware of. The version of the cover I've got on my screener differs from the final one in completely inane ways, such as the fact that Davis is wearing a red shirt with a brown vest over it on what may be the "final" version, whereas she has a yellow shirt on under a lavender jacket on mine. Mine also has the "n" in "Happen" comedically tilted, as if it's "breaking" and about to fall, plus a table behind Geena with a wilted flower. I'm sad to see such brilliant work vanish in favor of critical quotes and an unbroken title, but what can you do.
A little poking around on the internet suggests that final product will include the "When Featurettes Happen" and "Glorious Gloria" featurettes, cast and crew interviews, deleted scenes, and the both the movie's theatrical and teaser trailers. Should Image deem me worthy of recieving said product -- I'd take it in either DVD or Blu-Ray, by the way -- the review will be updated.
Accidents Happen isn't necessarily that weird -- we're not talking Eraserhead here -- but the movie is willing to switch gears and do it seriously, and I'm sure there will be viewers who find the whole experience too jarring. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but taking into account how hard it is to judge whether the film is achieving its goals or blindly shooting for the dartboard (and just to be on the safe side), I'm only going to tag this one with a recommended.
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