HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Sunday, August 8, 2010

ACCIDENTS HAPPEN -- DVD review by porfle

The story of an accident-prone family trying to struggle by despite some of the worst luck ever, ACCIDENTS HAPPEN (2009) is also the story of how irritating a movie can be when it tries too hard to be moving and funny.

The Conways are a typical American brood on their way home from the drive-in movie one night when a terrible car crash alters their lives forever.  Their young daughter is killed and one of their three sons, Gene, ends up in a lingering coma.  The parents, Gloria (Geena Davis) and Ray (Joel Tobeck), suddenly can't stand each other and split up.  The older son, Larry (Harry Cook), becomes a bitter alcoholic, while Billy (Harrison Gilbertson) tries to cope with his loss by engaging in prankish and sometimes destructive behavior with his best friend Doug Post (Sebastian Gregory).

As it turns out, the Posts aren't that lucky, either, when a stolen bowling ball rolled down the street by Billy causes Doug's dad Tiny (Troy Planet) to fatally crash his car.  The death is ruled a suicide, meaning that Doug's mom Dottie (Sarah Woods) gets no insurance.  Meanwhile, Gloria is on a downward slide made worse by the news that Ray is marrying a blonde ditz named Connie, and as the spectre of the comatose Gene continues to hang over the Conway family, their internal bickering threatens to end in self-destruction.

At first, ACCIDENTS HAPPEN seems to have the same kind of lighthearted fatalism, alternately uplifting and downbeat, that fueled John Irving's "The World According to Garp" and "The Hotel New Hampshire", as funny everyday stuff rubs shoulders with sudden tragedy to create a wry sort of realism.  I like the dreamy slow-motion opening sequence with a young Billy cavorting in the lawn sprinkler while his elderly neighbor, Mr. Smolensky, adds too much gasoline to his barbecue grill and turns himself into a human torch.  It's the film's first accident, one of many, followed quickly by the second when Billy turns to flee and bangs face-first into a flagpole.

The Conway family's car crash is another arresting moment played less as tragedy and more for its bittersweet quality--it's the end of nostalgia for the family (years later Billy will admit he can barely remember his late sister) and an abrupt plunge into brittle reality.  For the rest of the film, we watch as each surviving member of the family tries to cope with this in their own way.

Ultimately, however, regardless of all the quirkiness and eccentricities that are shoehorned into the script, the story and characters just aren't all that interesting.  After a good set-up the film gets less convincing as both the comedy and drama seem forced, while we're often aware that certain scenes are working overtime to "move" us. 

This is made worse by the fact that several of the performances, especially those of the juvenile leads, just aren't that good, while the jumpy crosscutting of certain scenes (such as Gloria's date with Bob and Billy's romantic interlude with Doug's sister, Katrina) lessens the momentum of each.  Director Andrew Lancaster indulges in some clever visuals that occasionally make the film more interesting in a superficial way, yet this only accentuates the drabness of the story itself.

As Gloria, Geena Davis' behavior is supposed to be endearingly offbeat--she's one of those "force of nature" characters--but comes off as just odd most of the time.  She's meant to be funny because she curses like a sailor and says things like "I'm so hungry, I could eat a crowbar and shit a jungle gym" and something equally charming about eating "a shit cake covered with a delicious chocolate sauce." 

Gloria's excessively foul language is meant to be an endearing trait,  but it feels as though the scriptwriter is simply trying to make us laugh with creative obscenities.  Although one of my favorite actresses, Geena Davis never really seems to have a handle on the role, maybe because there isn't one. 

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 2.35:1 widescreen and Dolby 5.1 surround sound, with English and Spanish subtitles.  Extras include "When Featurettes Happen", "Glorious Gloria", cast and crew interviews, deleted scenes, and a couple of trailers. 

I wanted to like ACCIDENTS HAPPEN after its promising start, but it eventually became less the movie I wanted to see and more of a tiresome effort to pluck my heartstrings and dazzle me with its quirkiness.  Sometimes that works, but in this case, the whole thing is definitely overquirked. 

Buy it at

No comments: