“Have you ever been to a military-media moonbase event before?”
I don’t know if you guys remember this, but a long time ago David O. Russell was supposed to be doing a new comedy called NAILED, about Jessica Biel getting a nail stuck in her head. This was about seven years ago actually, so at the time Russell was coming off of I HEART HUCKABEES, which I really liked, but it didn’t seem like he was on the verge of becoming one of the big directors. I’m talking five years before he directed Jennifer Lawrence in an Oscar winning performance, when she was still playing the daughter on The Bill Engvall Show. That’s how long ago this was.
He was filming and everything but he kept having disasters with the financiers going bankrupt, not having enough money to pay the cast and crew, who repeatedly walked off. Eventually it got so bad Russell decided he had no choice but to close up shop with a day or two of filming left. He just gave up and took his first for-hire directing gig, subbing for Darren Aranofsky as a favor to Mark Wahlberg… but then that was THE FIGHTER, and all the sudden he had an Oscar nomination for best director, and then he did SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and AMERICAN HUSTLE so he had three of those nominations and all the sudden he’s more known as that guy with the glasses at the Oscars than that mean guy who yelled at Lily Tomlin. Things are so good for him now he probly sometimes forgets that he wasted years of his life almost making NAILED.
But now all the sudden there’s this movie called ACCIDENTAL LOVE that’s on V.O.D. and will be on actual video soon. It’s written and directed by one Stephen Greene and it happens to have the exact same cast and premise as NAILED. You may be thinking “Stephen Greene, you hustlin sonofabitch, how the fuck did you achieve what three time Academy Award nominee for best director David O. Russell could not?” Actually my immediate assumption was that some guy named Stephen Greene did that last bit of shooting, slapped the thing together and credited himself as the director. But it turns out there is no Stephen Greene, he’s like Keyser Soze. They let Russell use a pseudonym for this release, which from what I hear takes some doing.
Ha. Both the director and the movie itself wanted to use pseudonyms.
I have not found any explanation of what exactly this is, whether any reshoots were actually done or if any of it was edited by Russell at all. It is possible his footage was assembled by some unknown force or anonymous entity without his input. My guess though is that he had some kind of a rough cut which someone maybe cleaned up a little and then put credits and music on. Evidence: editors Mark Bourgeois and Robert K. Lambert both worked on THREE KINGS and I HEART HUCKABEES.
A few scenes feel like rough assemblies where they don’t quite make sense, and were meant to be edited more. A few times it feels like there was something missing that they didn’t get to shoot (like at the end everybody has been on a camping trip and has salve all over their faces?) And the worst part is the score by John Swihart (THE BROTHERS SOLOMON, EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH), which underlines every joke way too much and makes the whole thing seem too broad. If you find this movie unwatchable I blame the score. And as far as sound design, I feel very confident that Russell would not have chosen to use the wacky record scratch or the wolf howl.
So I can see why some people might wince (6% on Rotten Tomatoes), but I cannot tell a lie, to me this abomination still managed to be really fuckin funny. My recommendation is that if you think HUCKABEES is hilarious you should watch this and imagine it’s a test screening or bootleg of a rough work-in-progress. That’s what I did and it worked.
Biel plays Alice Eckle, a waitress in Indiana who loses her job after a freak restaurant decorating accident puts a nail in her brain that causes fits of violence and fury and, when it shifts just right, horniness (being “a nail slut,” she calls it) or speaking Portuguese. As a mere waitress in the United States pre-Affordable Care Act she’s uninsured and can’t afford brain surgery, which leads to her and a small band of unusually injured uninsured people on a trip to DC to try to get Congress to enact new health care legislation.
The script is credited to Kristin Gore (daughter of Al and Tipper) and Drawn Together writers Matthew Silverstein & Dave Jeser, allegedly based on Gore’s book Sammy’s Hill. But from what I’ve read about it it sounds like the book only has Congress in common with the movie, and the humor in this is extremely David O. Russell, in the exact same mode as HUCKABEES. It’s a silly, scattershot satirical romp where everybody on all sides is equally stupid and everyone is very earnest. Since we’re dealing with politicians here they are also duplicitous and full of shit, but sometimes they can even be earnest about that. Airhead freshman Congressman Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is proud to take credit when Alice says she’s “learned some manipulative behaviors” in Washington. He thinks it’s a compliment.
Predictably some of the reviews complain about the movie’s controversial point that our government would rather waste their time on insane bullshit than ever even consider a legitimate attempt to value the lives and health and livelihood of all Americans. It’s a hyper exaggeration and certainly not a realistic view of the government (also it’s not explained why she can’t sue that restaurant where she got nailed) but I think it has that sense of essential truth that good satire needs. It accurately points out the insanity of our attitude and our broken system and our stubborn insistence on looking the other way.
It also finds entertaining new ways to illustrate the absurdity of the political system and its catering to our stupidity. Alice is told that her only hope for a health care bill is to sneakily tack it onto former astronaut Rep. Pam Hendrickson (Catherine Keener)’s “moonbase” legislation. “The moon is my church,” she explains to Rep. Birdwell. “It’s a really special place. This country deserves to have a military base there.” And she gets him and Alice both repeating the slogan “All you need to know is that it keeps us safe, and non-blown-up. And it’s on the moon.” Which seems to be accepted as enough of an explanation.
But even the moonbase bill itself relies on gimmicks like getting the Girl Squaws to sell a special moonbase cookie by falsely promising to bring Shakira to their annual jamboree. They do not take it lightly when they find out they’ve been had.
This is a big, silly, screwball farce full of ridiculous characters: Kurt Fuller as a Reverend on medical leave because of a permanent boner, Tracy Morgan as Keyshawn, former amateur weightlifter ashamed of his prolapsed anus, James Marsden as the asshole boyfriend who was proposing to Alice when the accident happened, but then decided to put the engagement “on hold” even though “I still totally want to talk if you get fixed.”
Marsden is probly the funniest character, kind of the equivalent to Mark Wahlberg’s firefighter character from HUCKABEES. He’s a cop, and even though we never see him on duty we also never see him out of his police uniform (including shoulder radio and fingerless gloves), even when he’s at a romantic dinner or a friend’s wedding. He tries to impress people by talking about percentages and statistics. He says things like “How lucky are we talking about here, doc? I mean I deal with odds every day. That’s my job,” and “80% of police authority comes from controlling eye contact, like I’m doing with you right now, see?” And he carries a hawk talon for good luck.
I noticed in HUCKABEES and even SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK that Russell loves to have a big ensemble and then have them all improbably going around together as a group. And it’s like WIZARD OF OZ, they keep picking up more members, like the take-no-shit Grand Sacajawea of the Girl Squaws, or Rakeesha (Malinda Williams, HIGH SCHOOL HIGH), the security guard who falls for Keyshawn and paints his portrait in water colors. “Oh wow, is that your head on a wolf’s body, crying?”
As you would imagine from the history of this thing, it’s messy. Things it seems like they never quite got to: figuring out how the accident happens (repairman seems to fall off ladder for no reason), actually showing the nail, actually showing the reverend’s boner bulge, figuring out a non-terrible title (isn’t love always pretty accidental?), hiring a professional designer to do the poster.
But for me anyway it’s worth overlooking that for all the gems in this thing. It’s so many little moments:
- Marsden claiming “I specifically asked for the speakers to be wired right.”
- Alice’s aunt the “large animal doctor” (Kirstie Alley) trying to remove the nail and blurting out “God, I hope I’m not just making the hole bigger.”
- The constant references to Howard’s goal of having different colors of glue in schools (“It’s hard working for the people. It’s hard even getting colored glues.”),
- Howard angrily taking the defibrillator from Alice while she’s trying to save a senator’s life because “I’ve always wanted to do this!”
- Pam being upstaged by Alice’s impromptu speech at a funeral, then trying to clap louder than everyone else when she realizes the crowd is going for it
- Alice left hanging on a high five for “maybe I could finally have an orgasm”
- Birdwell is also left hanging when he tries to give it up to Senator Hendrickson’s cool aide
- Similarly, there’s the awkward wave that an ex-fling gives to Birdwell as she walks past him to publicly testify against his ethics
- Or the disgusted looking kid standing behind Birdwell in a puff piece about him visiting with kids. Later Hendrickson asks “Didn’t the school kids just come visit you?”
And he complains, “Yeah… they were surprisingly hard on me for 8 year-olds and I wouldn’t really want to have them back.”
For Gyllenhaal this came after he’d already done BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, JARHEAD and ZODIAC, so he was on a roll. But he doesn’t do a huge amount of comedic roles, especially at this point, and he’s good at playing a dummy like this.
Everybody is good in the movie, really, but I especially appreciate Biel. Between this and THE TALL MAN I gotta say I might have to become a Bielamaniac. This makes it clear that she doesn’t get enough lead roles and especially doesn’t get to be funny often enough. Alice is as dumb as the other characters, but sweeter and more well-meaning, inspiring them into positive action. It’s a really impressive performance because she plays innocent and hurt, but also conniving, she makes rousing speeches which more than once involve breaking down into tears, also she flies into rages and horniness attacks and speaks different languages and even does some good rollerskating at the beginning. It’s like she’s been saving up all the acting she didn’t get to do in the other movies she was in.
I think she has the tone just right. She knows how to sit with a table of little girls and dead seriously say “If you’re on a Girl Squaw campout and an ax gets embedded in your femur, or your face is badly burned in a s’mores accident, you will be protected by this bill even if your family is badly insured.”
So, it’s too bad this ACCIDENTAL LOVE happened, but at least I accidentally got some love out of it. I don’t know about the rest of you suckers.
note: every time I read the title I hear it to the tune of “California Love”
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.