Title: Accidental Love
Director: Stephen Greene (aka David O Russell)
Major Players: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jessica Biel, Catherine Keener
Out Of Five: 2
Accidental Love isn’t quite what you expect. Take a look at the trailer and the poster. A rom-com, yes? Er, no, not really. Bear with me and I’ll explain.
More interestingly, this is a movie with a back story. Filmed back in 2008, it was dogged by money problems which ended up halting production and, by the end of that year, it had its own comfortable space on the shelf. Director David O Russell eventually disowned the whole project in 2010, which is why the credited director is somebody called Stephen Greene (but, of course, it was Russell). And it carried on gathering dust until somebody had the bright idea of releasing it, firstly in the States during the spring and now over here. Putting it mildly, a film with baggage.
Jessica Biel is Alice, a roller skating waitress at a diner but, on the night her boyfriend proposes, an accident leaves her with a nail stuck in her head. In the absence of any medical insurance, the nail has to stay where it is, with inevitable effects on her behaviour. But when she sees new Congressman, Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal) on TV, saying that he wants to help everybody, she seeks him out in Washington in the hope that he’ll bring about a change in the law to help people in her predicament.
Now, like I said, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a rom-com. Yes, there’s a couple of romances, the main one being between Gyllenhaal and Biel, but none of them really convince and they only make a small contribution to the story.
A nail in the head is hardly subtle. Actually, Alice isn’t the only one with a medical problem, because a couple of her hangers-on are in the same boat, but their complaints are much more tasteless (one involves diamond shaped blue pills). They’re clearly meant to be funny but they’re not. In fact, there were several moments in the film that produced a sharp intake of breath as they were decidedly too close to the wire for comfort. Tasteless is definitely the operative word.
If ever a movie wanted to be a political satire, this is it. And if ever a film failed to hit the mark, this is it. Its portrayal of Washington politics is a cartoon version of the West Wing, with all sorts of wheeler dealing goings-on and ridiculous bills to pass. Deputy Speaker Catherine Keener, an ex-astronaut, is promoting a manned base on the moon “so we’ll all be safe” while Gyllenhaal’s Congressman aims to make sure schools have coloured glue. It’s all done so clumsily that just about every barb is either way off target, blunt or both.
Had the film had been released back in 2008/9, American audiences would have instantly recognised its target. Because 2008 was the year when Obama was elected President and one of his main – and most controversial – platforms was healthcare reform. What is known as the Obamacare bill was passed in 2010 and, while it concentrated mainly on paid-for care, the principle of free emergency health care runs through the film, making Obamacare its real target. Except that it still misses by a mile.
Accidental Love doesn’t work as any of things it tries to be: romantic comedy (neither), political satire (blunt and clumsy) or even a black comedy (read “tasteless” for “black”). Apparently when production stopped, large chunks of the script were left unfilmed, but if what’s made it to the screen is anything to go by, perhaps that was just as well. Goodness only knows why it’s been released now. It would have been kinder to all concerned to leave it on the shelf where it belonged – and we could have spent our time and money on something far better.
Accidental Love goes on limited release in cinemas from Friday, 19 June and is reviewed on the Talking Pictures podcast.