Saturday, 14 November 2015

Accidental Love (2015) - Movie Review

Oh, how I have waited for this day… much like how I await the day I get castrated. Today is the day that I look at a film that has been disowned by its director. Not that this is anything new in Hollywood; google the name “Alan Smithee” and you’ll get an idea of how prevalent this is. However, what makes me so hesitant to look at this is for two big reasons: One of them being that disowning a project usually happens as a result of excessive interference/displeasure with said project, meaning that the end result more likely than not is going to suck. The other reason is that the disgruntled filmmaker in question today is David O. Russell, recent Oscar idol and a man who I wholeheartedly trust to deliver emotionally resonant, if sometimes incoherent, cinema. The man has a knack for delivering amazing work from rather unorthodox subject matter when left to his own devices. In other words, he’s pretty much one of the last people that should be brought under the fire of studio interference.

The plot: Alice (Jessica Biel) is a roller-skating waitress who, during an unfortunate date with her boyfriend Scott (James Marsden), ends up with a three-inch nail shot into her head. In the wake of her erratic behaviour brought on from the nail, Alice finds herself in Washington D.C. trying to get Congressman Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal) to help her remove it. What follows is a political media frenzy surrounding Alice, Howard, Representative Pam Hendrickson (Catherine Keener) and her bill to put a missile defence base on the Moon.

We’re talking David O. Russell (or Stephen Greene) here, so of course we have a big ensemble cast to work with: Aside from those already listed, we’ve got Beverly D’Angelo, Bill Hader, Kirstie Alley, Tracy Morgan, James Brolin and Paul Ruebens, just to name a few. What a shame that the acting is as inconsistent as it is here. In some scenes, we get the actors pushing through the script to at least give a decent performance; in others, it’s stilted to the point of finding comedy at the opposite end of the spectrum. As much as I want to blame the editing hack job producer Kia Jam did on this film, these are so far removed from Russell’s standard in terms of actor direction. It hurts even more considering that, even though this was filmed right after I Heart Huckabees, this came out during Russell’s peak as a director. Going from the amazingly natural performances of American Hustle to the community theatre pantomime of this is a major step down. Hell, even with how much I couldn’t get into Huckabees, at least that had some good performances going for it. Then again, I doubt anyone could’ve made this script sound good.

The writing for this film is, quite frankly, a disaster. Which is honestly surprising, considering the writing staff here. Aside from Russell and original author Kristin Gore (daughter of Al), we have the duo of Dave Jeser and Matt Silverstein, otherwise known as the guys behind the animated destroyer-of-childhoods Drawn Together. Now, at its core, this film is one big political satire centred on healthcare. Jeser and Silverstein, while being extremely crude in their style of humour, are more than capable of pulling off satire; hell, I still consider the episode ‘Clum Babies’ to be one of the best pieces of religious satire ever made. However, there’s a major difference between how their writing works with animated characters and how it works in live-action; namely, the tone. Were this to be a completely zany experience, their style would work. There’s even hints of that being the case with the very premise: Woman with a nail in her head teams up with girl scouts to stop the government from putting a military base on the moon; Rule of Weird should apply here.

Instead, it ends up clashing with Kristin Gore’s style which, unfortunately, follows in line with her father’s: Blunt force political trauma. Despite this film being sold on the romantic angle between Alice and Howard, the majority of the film involves political manoeuvring and dialogue that is about as sharp as a wet paper towel. As a result, the intent to deliver a message with the subtlety, as much as it pains me to type it, of a nail to the skull comes to blows with the instances where we have a reverend (Kurt Fuller) with priapism and the nail making Alice hypersexual. I don’t care how much intentionally overblown music you get John Swihart to make for you, there’s no reconciling that without some seriously good luck and/or skill.

It doesn’t help that, on top of all of this, it isn’t even remotely funny. Like, not even when considering the Rule of Weird angle. The dialogue is either forced and unnatural because they have to hammer in the healthcare message, or it’s forced and unnatural because it just features people explaining the bleeding obvious about what they just said. At times, it’s almost as if someone looked at the dialogue and thought that random spurts of self-awareness about their own stupidity would save them and jotted in some quick riffing. No such luck, unfortunately. What it really comes down to is that these lines could have worked, had they been said by characters other than the ones in this film. And that’s, ultimately, the biggest problem with this movie and why I think it’s a damn good thing that David O. Russell ended up removing his name from it: There’s nothing human and/or relatable about any of this. We’re not watching characters interacting on screen, we’re watching various mouthpieces operate within the supposedly functional parameters of the designated plot.

The love story is pushed all the way into the background, which I’d almost call the best decision involving this movie considering it’s a love triangle between a woman with brain damage, a politician with the mentality of a nine-year-old (make your own jokes on that one) and the douchiest romantic foil I’ve seen since friggin’ God’s Not Dead. Seriously, James Marsden as Scott in this film is dangerously close to how Dean Cain was in that movie, right down to abandoning her after hearing the medical news. The dramatic angle about Alice’s injury is… non-existent, pretty much, and it isn’t even used enough for comedic reasons for that to be even remotely justified. And as for the political side of things, the only thing remotely watchable is Paul Reubens doing his damnedest to mug his way through the scenes; otherwise, all you’re left with is Keener embodying every straw-man governmental figurehead you’ve ever seen. Sorry but, knowing how fantastically well-rounded and relatable Russell is capable of making his characters, both in writing and in portrayal, this isn’t acceptable.

All in all, while I freely admit that this isn’t the utter dreck that I was expecting given its production history and current notoriety, this still sucks pretty hard. Politically, it’s about as biting as Gummy Joe where the unnatural dialogue and inconsistent performances result in an almost uncanny valley effect on the audience. Dramatically, the film doesn’t even allow itself any time to be taken seriously, constantly aiming for slapstick and/or crude humour in its place; it’s like Miss You Already all over again, except here the comedy isn’t even good. And romantically, considering this is where most of the advertising has been focused on, the love triangle presented could’ve made for a fun comedy had it not been tacked on to this bulkier load of soap-boxing. But even then, considering how utterly annoying Scott is here, I doubt even that would have worked too well. Unless you’re a David O. Russell completionist, which admittedly is the only reason that I watched it, there’s not a whole lot here that’s worth seeing. Just go watch Drawn Together instead; even if it offends you, I guarantee that you’ll still get more out of it.

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