Jake Gyllenhaal Jessica Biel

Accidental Love Review: Nothing Much Pieced Together

Friday, February 13, 2015 Rob Samuelson

Accidental Love/Nailed

Director: Stephen Greene (but actually David O. Russell because Stephen Greene is not a real person)
Writers: Kristin Gore, Matthew Silverstein, Dave Jeser
Starring: Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal, James Marsden, Kurt Fuller, Tracy Morgan, Catherine Keener
Rating: Two and a half stars out of five

Typically it is a good idea for an audience to be able to see the inciting incident of a film. That's how one understands the stakes of things, grasps the consequences, builds a rapport or interest in the fate of the central characters. Unfortunately, in Accidental Love (originally titled Nailed), that inciting incident, which involves lead character Alice (Jessica Biel) being comically shot in the head with a nail gun, was left unmade as director David O. Russell (now a nearly annual Oscar contender with The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle as his last three films) abandoned the project due to its funding going down the drain with a few key scenes left to lens.

So where does that leave Accidental Love? Not in a great place. Following Russell's 2010 departure, studio employees – perhaps in conjunction with the film's producers – pieced together the movie five years after it probably should have died. This leaves part of Russell's charm and offbeat, sometimes inspired comedy in place, but largely reduces everything to an oddly paced series of poorly edited scenes. Shots that would normally have been cut if there was enough coverage from other cameras are left to jostle and lurch – seriously, there are a couple moments when the camera operator clearly bumps into something. So is the case with that inciting incident. Biel and her boyfriend, an Indiana State Trooper (Marsden, be-mustached and never out of uniform) sit at the finest restaurant in town as he tries to propose amid less-than-stellar circumstances. A construction worker is atop a ladder, nail gunning a sign into place while Marsden looks for the right words, dealing with an engagement ring that doesn't fit and the noise of the worker above him and his would-be fiancĂ©. When he complains to the manager, the worker falls from the ladder and lands muzzle-first on Biel's head, jamming a nail directly into her brain. This is depicted with a shot that lasts perhaps half a second.

Done right, that could have been a fine bit of farce. But as the tattered work stands, the editors are left with a shot of Biel and Marsden at a dinner table, the worker's barely visible foot on the ladder behind them. It's not a particularly well composed shot, and it likely would have been spliced with others – probably some showing the worker at work on the sign, reverse shots to build tension, and a few options to show the landing – to make something worth seeing. But the people who took up authorship of the film from Russell didn't have that at their disposal, so they made due with not great material. It's halfway laudatory that they were able to make the best of their crummy situation.

Even more unfortunately for them, Russell left them with a crummy situation for most of the movie. Even if he had completed it and put some more of a professional sheen on things, it likely would not be much to write home about. Alice's mood swings and newly discovered sexual promiscuity brought on by her injury are broadly drawn and hardly idiosyncratic enough to be interesting beyond a couple chuckles. Her flirtation with her congressman, played by Jake Gyllenhaal – the film's best asset as he shows off some of the weirdo proclivities he would master in later things like last year's Enemy and Nightcrawler – is mostly played as a series of “ain't politicians sleazy skirt chasers?” jokes. She tries to enlist him to build congressional support for a healthcare bill (this was written and mostly shot in the days before the passage of the Affordable Care Act) to cover her $150,000 nail-removal surgery, and the inner workings and dealmaking of Congress provide the meat of the plot. Sadly, these two-timing liars and cheats are not all that funny, despite a fine bench of comedians and character actors like Catherine Keener and Paul Reubens. Gyllenhaal gets the best bits, like a “core-finding” men's retreat in the woods that involves fire, loin cloths, and the nether regions of a moose, but generally it's a lot of people in offices straining to pull comedy out of nothing spectacular. Plus it looks like it was shot 20 years ago, not six, with that mid-1990s Miramax faded vibe.

Perhaps Russell could have done something more with full control, not to mention a full slate of shooting, but the evidence of what's left over isn't very convincing. The social satire is painfully behind the times and not all that funny to begin with, everything looks off, and none of the performances would be considered near the top of anyone in the cast's careers. But hey, it's not miserably egregious – some laughs are there – and it'll probably be available for free on Netflix soon enough. As it stands, you can rent it on demand now or see it in limited release next week.

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