Happy Accidents

USA, 2000. Rated R. 110 minutes.

Cast: Marisa Tomei, Vincent D'Onofrio, Holland Taylor, Nadia Dajani, Tovah Feldshuh, Sean Gullette, Bronson Dudley, JosÚ Z˙˝iga, Cara Buono, Lianna Pai
Writer: Brad Anderson
Music: Evan Lurie
Cinematographer: Terry Stacey
Producer: Susan A. Stover
Director: Brad Anderson


Grade: C+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

H appy Accidents is the perfect title for a romantic comedy, isn't it? It brings to mind chance meetings and a whimsical mood. This tiny independent film from Next Stop Wonderland and Session 9 writer/director Brad Anderson is indeed a romantic comedy, but it isn't really about chance and whimsy. Sure, the premise is whimsical enough: Ruby Weaver (Marisa Tomei) bumps into a charming oddball, Sam Deed (Vincent D'Onofrio, always drawn to unusual projects), who doesn't know how to work a record player and is terrified of small dogs. When pressed about his eccentricities, he claims he comes from the future--about 400 years in the future. Woo-wee! Let the wacky shenanigans begin!

But no, this isn't a Robin Williams movie. Although Anderson sustains the amusement with incongruities stemming from Sam's unfamiliarity with the world around him (hey, he thinks Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" is a protest song) and his incredible stories about the future, there is something quite serious going on. Enter Ruby's therapist (the wonderful Holland Taylor, who is Anderson's aunt). Ruby has a history of getting involved with The Wrong Guy--screw-ups she thinks she can fix. Sam, like Ruby's ex-boyfriends, is certainly a screw-up who needs fixingů or worse.
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You see, there's nothing accidental about Sam bumping into Ruby. When confronted with the evidence, he spins a yarn about running across her photograph in a database in the future and coming back through time just to meet her. Is it the truth, or has Sam seen The Terminator too many times? We want to believe Sam, because this is a romantic comedy, after all, and we're supposed to root for the protagonists to be together. But it's not clear whether Sam is really a time traveler or burdened with extremely complex delusions that have something to do with atoning for the death of his sister. Sam claims that Ruby is herself in danger, and that she will die if they don't change the future together. Is Sam a dangerous psychotic likely to get Ruby killed as part of his elaborate fantasy?

Pretty heavy stuff for a romantic comedy. Sam's eccentricities and Ruby's conversations with her best friend and confidante Gretchen (Nadia Dajani) are funny (as is a bit involving a cameo by Anthony Michael Hall), but much of the film is not comic at all. It's a testament to Anderson's skill as a writer and director to be able to weave seemingly incongruous moods and concepts into a story that actually hangs together and feels more realistic than outlandish. In fact, Happy Accidents has quite a lot to say on the subject of being intimate with someone who is mentally ill, regardless of whether Sam turns out to be deluded or not. D'Onofrio and Tomei

Although released a month after his horror film Session 9, Anderson completed Happy Accidents before. Despite the vastly different subject matter, both films are obviously the work of the same director. In Happy Accidents Anderson displays the same stark, hypnotic, low-budget style that he would use so effectively in Session 9. (You can also see Session 9 co-writer/star Steven Gevedon in a cameo as one of Ruby's ex-boyfriends, the French one). The moments when Sam "backslides," in which he goes into a trance and time appears to flow backward, recall times in Session 9 when one character or another becomes unhinged. Similarly, with both films Anderson proves to be an aggressive editor (he edits his own movies), playing with chronology and montage.

Unlike Session 9, however, and like Next Stop Wonderland, Happy Accidents is obviously the work of a filmmaker still finding his way. It is a film of many virtues, but it does have one very big problem. It gets stuck in a tediously repetitive cycle of Ruby worrying over her apparently sick boyfriend, Ruby consulting with Gretchen and/or her therapist, Ruby having a confrontation with Sam, Ruby making up with Samů until the next round of worrying and confrontations. In short, the film is way too long, and for too much of it we're just waiting impatiently to see how it all plays out. The resolution is worth the wait, but it needn't have been so protracted.

Review © September 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 IFC Films. All Rights Reserved.

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