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It's hard to believe that during her 28 years in the motion picture business, Geena Davis has only appeared in roughly 17 feature films, with "Accidents Happen" her first starring effort since 2002. A beguiling screen presence with appealing comedic chops, it's always pleasant to see the actress working. Unfortunately, "Accidents Happen" is a deeply flawed motion picture that relies much too intently on Davis's screen skills to bring it completely to life.
For the Conway family, life has seen its fair share of tragedy. Accidents have robbed parents Gloria (Geena Davis) and Ray (Joel Tobeck) of one of their children, while another lays in a vegetative state. For Billy, (Harry Cook), the youngest Conway boy, life has been a series of struggles, dealing with a scattered, splintered family and his own growing pains, accelerated by his friendship with mischievous neighbor boy, Doug (Sebastian Gregory). When their shenanigans end up killing Doug's father, the boys are rocked by the scandal, but manage to slip their misdeeds past the watchful eye of the police. Attempting to come to terms with his offense, find peace with his brother (Harry Cook), and deal with his mother's general potty-mouthed hysteria, Billy wrestles with his troubled life, which grows more complicated by the day.
While no film should be completely judged by its marketing effort, it's alarming to find the distributors for "Accidents Happen" pushing the film as some type of subversive comedy, using the "unlucky family" concept of the story as an invitation for laughs. "Accidents Happen" has a few moments of humor, but, for the most part, it's a feature of considerable grief and stark misfortune, with enough death and distress to keep those frowns upside down. It's understandable to find some shiftiness in movie promotion (comedies do pull in audiences more easily), but this film is more concerned with disturbing developments than humorous ones.
Adding a dash of laughs to the frosty dramatics of "Accidents Happen" is a key reason why the picture doesn't entirely play. It's a tonal battlefield for director Andrew Lancaster, who's juggling an autobiographical screenplay by Brian Carbee, which takes the Conways to suffocating emotional spaces, reflecting a journey of life at its most impressionable. Sadly, there appears to be much cleaved out of the finished product, with the picture weaving erratically around major traumatic plot points, endeavoring to include a family perspective on matters, but never quite hitting any consistent viewpoint.
It's a jumbled film, displaying a distinct lack of direction, as Lancaster glosses over profound psychological tears with a showoff visual design, including the use of super-slo-mo to capture every last detail of the luckless scenarios. A little less technical toil and more editorial finesse would've made an incredible difference between an emotionally substantial film and a hollow music video dealing with bleak occurrences
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) quality for "Accidents Happen" is secure, though the film's use of visual tricks does help to engorge the BD viewing experience, with many shots slowed down to provide a pleasing pop. Detail is acceptable, with facial textures sustained and location minutiae allowed some eye-catching environmental business to cover. Shadow detail runs a bit murky at times, with true blacks unable to muscle in on the evening sequences. Colors are strong, with green lawns and orange interiors looking purposeful.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix rolls smoothly throughout the entire film, but doesn't present any sort of substantial kick, remaining modest and dutiful. Atmospherics offer some surround activity to savor, with the more extravagant visual touches supported with highly articulated sound effects. Dialogue exchanges are preserved and crisp, making it easy to hear the largely Australian cast swallow their natural accents. Soundtrack cuts bring a welcome dimensional wave to the track, creating an ambiance that assists in the dramatic intent of the feature. Scoring cues are less pronounced, often disregarded in the mix.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are provided.
"When Featurettes Happen" (3:26) is a brief promotional tool that uses interviews with Davis and Lancaster to sell the premise to the public. More film clips here than useful information.
"Glorious Gloria" (2:16) sits with Davis, who describes her role in the film and her pass at motivation.
"Cast & Crew Interviews" (8:10) are the raw interrogation files from the set and the film's junket, asking the cast and crew to discuss the movie's dramatic intent, their personal involvement, and why the film shot in Australian despite its American roots.
"Deleted Scenes" (5:42) extend critical car accident and character introduction sequences, provide some troubling dating mistakes for Gloria, and elongates a cathartic moment between mother and son.
A Teaser Trailer and Theatrical Trailer are included.
Lancaster is working with a largely unknown, untested cast, which allows Davis to easily take center stage. The actress makes a polite impression here, showing authority and consistent woe. Star power helps "Accidents Happen" immensely, giving this dreary, confused picture a lift when it needs it the most. Too bad Davis couldn't fill all the roles. The film could've benefited with a little more of her personality.