Happy Accidents

"Very Good"

Happy Accidents Review


My filmcritic.com colleague Norm Schrager nailed Session 9, Brad Anderson's throwback to spooky horror films from the 70's. It worked as an eerie homage without being self-referential or smugly postmodern. Genre aficionados will acknowledge the similarities in tone to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and George Romero's Dawn of the Dead without being taken out of the engrossing narrative (i.e., a psychologically addled waste management team clears out an abandoned lunatic asylum; unspeakable dread ensues). In a double-whammy for 2001, Anderson shoots and (mostly) scores again with his eclectic riff on time-travel episodes from The Twilight Zone, appropriately titled Happy Accidents.

Much like Session 9, the cards are played very close to the vest here. Is boyish, eccentric "Sam Deed from Dubuque, Iowa" a futuristic voyager from the year 2470 or just your run-of-the-mill psychologically disturbed nutcase let loose on the present-day streets of NYC? As played by wonderful character actor Vincent D'Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket), it's up in the air whether or not we should accept his detailed monologues about life after the polar ice caps have melted. The question proves to be moot, at least for a time. Even if the whole thing proves to be a creative delusion, one agrees with the character judgment passed down on him by his new girlfriend, Ruby (Marisa Tomei): "He's a freak, but he sure tells a good story!"

Neurotic Ruby thinks she may have found True Love after a series of nightmarish dating disasters (the Junkie, the Fetishist, the Artist, the Frenchman, etc.), but isn't quite sure how to handle "Sam Deed" when he starts explaining the barcode on his arm, his elaborately constructed fake identity, his pathological fear of dogs, his ability to speak five different languages, and his mission to change a crucial moment in time that may have ramifications on time's alternate realities. (Don't ask.) It's all a bit much to take in. Ruby's close friend Gretchen (cuz ya can't have a love story without the token friend, though Nadia Dajani invests the thankless role with warmth) chalks it up as a sexy role-playing game, but her cautious therapist (Holland Taylor) warns her that co-dependency is rearing its ugly head again and she's in over her head with yet another doomed relationship. Who ya gonna believe?

Despite her winning an Academy Award, Marisa Tomei has always struck me as an annoying and unwelcome screen presence, one that undermines the pleasure of watching Happy Accidents. Her brassy New Yawk attitude never really meshes with her desperate desire to appear "cute" to her adoring fans. Being loud and flashing a (disingenuous) smile does not necessarily equal "substantial and sexy." It takes more than a crack team of hair and wardrobe people to imbue her with personality. Then there's that damned voice, which strains to be oh-so-adorable. Look, this stuff is purely subjective. Some people feel this way about Richard Gere, others cannot bear to watch Robin Williams' hyperactive schtick. For my money, it's M. Tomei with a bullet.

Happy Accidents is a romantic comedy filtered through Twelve Monkeys (or, more appropriately, Chris Marker's La Jetee, especially with those still framed "memory" photographs Anderson employs as a stylistic device throughout). Modern Manhattan is filmed with an otherworldly, vaguely alien eye with a color scheme oddly reminiscent of Logan's Run. As the stranger in a strange land, D'Onofrio walks slightly out-of-step, wonderfully affable but often inscrutable with his wayward expressions and bemused detachment. This is science fiction told mainly via the power of suggestion (though it often falls into the sci-fi trap of having entirely too much forced exposition -- we want deeds, not words!)

At least twenty minutes too long, Happy Accidents eventually gets around to a race-against-time scenario that puts "Sam Deed" to the Ultimate Test. No movie can live in ambiguity forever, but Anderson seems terminally unable to provide satisfactory conclusions to his otherwise well structured recent narratives. (Let's pretend the loathsome and predictable Next Stop Wonderland never happened, shall we?) There are also some slow, repetitive stretches as Ruby and Sam go over the same arguments again and again over whether or not he's crazy. The premise is strong enough to sustain interest, but it's enough to throw a nod in the general direction of Rod Serling for wrapping up his ideas in half-hour time slots, commercials included.

X-ray vision is real!



Happy Accidents

Facts and Figures

Run time: 110 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 12th September 2001

Distributed by: IFC Films

Production compaines: Independent Film Channel

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Fresh: 44 Rotten: 17

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: Susan A. Stover

Starring: as Sam Deed, as Ruby Weaver, as Gretchen, as Therapist, Maggie Ann "Meg" Ford, as Lillian Weaver, as Mark, as Victor, Sanjay Chandani as Sunil, as Bette, as Robin

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