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Accidental Love Blu-ray Review

Accidental Love (2015) movie poster Accidental Love

Theatrical Release: March 20, 2015 / Running Time: 101 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Stephen Greene (David O. Russell) / Writers: Kristin Gore (novel Sammy's Hill, screen story & screenplay); Matt Silverstein, David Jeser (screen story & screenplay)

Cast: Jessica Biel (Alice Eckle), Jake Gyllenhaal (Howard Birdwell), Catherine Keener (Rep. Pamela "Pam" Henry Hendrickson), James Marsden (Scott Beardsley), Tracy Morgan (Keyshawn McWilliams), Paul Reubens (Edwin), Beverly D'Angelo (Helen Eckle), Kurt Fuller (Reverend Norm), Malinda Williams (Rakeesha "Ra-Ra" Jackson), Kirstie Alley (Aunt Rita), James Brolin (Speaker Buck McCoy), Jenny Gulley (Brenda), Steve Boles (Bob Eckle), Bill Hader (Doctor Turnstall), Darlene Hunt (Doctor Adams), Albert Gore (Everett), David Ramsey (Rep. Bill Harshtone), Olivia Crocicchia (Grand Sacajawea Marsha Weber), Barbara Weetman (McCoy's Widow)

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If you believe the press release, billing block, and trailer, then Accidental Love was directed by Stephen Greene. Look up that name on IMDb, however, and you'll discover the truth:
Stephen Greene does not exist. It is a pseudonym used by David O. Russell. Yes, the David O. Russell. The one who has made three consecutive nominees for the Best Picture Oscar, which have drawn an astonishing eleven acting nominations at those Academy Awards. The filmmaker whose same three movies have grossed $375 million domestically and $617 million globally while earning near unanimous critical acclaim.

Why would a movie from the undisputed hottest director in Hollywood hide the fact that it was made by the undisputed hottest director in Hollywood? Because that's what David O. Russell wants. Accidental predates Russell's incomparable winning streak of The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle. It was shot back in 2008 when the director was still trying to live down the stigma and embarrassment that came from his profane shouting match with Lily Tomlin during the filming of I Heart Huckabees going public and viral a year earlier. Huckabees (2004), Russell's latest movie at the time, had severely disappointed at the box office and drew middling reviews. The promise of Russell's first three times in the director's chair -- the heralded Spanking the Monkey, Flirting with Disaster, and Three Kings -- was beginning to fade.

His blemished reputation at stake, Russell made Accidental, titled Nailed throughout the production, until funding ran out. After six starts and six shutdowns, the movie never completed filming, in fact failing to shoot the pivotal scene that drove the plot and inspired the working title. Russell moved on, shooting The Fighter in Massachusetts over six weeks in the summer of 2009. That much-needed rebound revived Russell's career and things have only gotten better since then. Russell disowned Nailed, a movie that seemed like it might never see the light of day. But, with money to be made off a project that starred Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal and other marketable actors, the film was finished in 2013 and submitted to the MPAA, earning a PG-13 a month before Hustle opened in theaters.

Acquired by Millennium Entertainment, who renamed the movie, Accidental finally materialized early in 2015 with an On Demand release followed by a very limited theatrical engagement. It hits DVD and Blu-ray at the end of this month, evidently obligated to leave Russell's involvement unmentioned, not that a filmmaker alias could remain secret in this age of rampant media coverage.

"Accidental Love" stars Jessica Biel as Alice Eckle, an Indiana waitress who gets a nail lodged in her brain.

Based on the 2004 novel Sammy's Hill by Kristin Gore, the daughter of Former US Vice President Al Gore, Accidental satirizes politics and health care reform. Gore adapted her book along with TV veterans Matthew Silverstein and Dave Jeser ("The Cleveland Show", "Drawn Together", "The Man Show"). Russell also probably worked on the script, as he tends to, though "Greene" receives no writing credit.

An opening card sets the movie "a few years ago", perhaps as a way of getting around the genuine health care reform that has occurred over the past seven years. Alice Eckle (Biel) of Indiana is a roller skating waitress at a drive-in fast food joint. Her boyfriend of eight months, mustachioed state trooper Scott Beardsley (James Marsden), proposes to her, but during the same dinner, a construction worker's nail gun improbably hits Alice, embedding a three-inch nail in her brain. Rushed to the hospital, she is about to have the nail removed, until the doctors discover she has no health insurance and no likely way of being able to pay the $150,000 the emergency surgery would cost her.

With the nail left in, Alice is prone to emotional outbursts, unreliable motor skills, and fits in Portuguese, a language she ordinarily doesn't speak but was exposed to as a child. Scott, who likes to speak in percentages, calls off the engagement. After an aunt who's a vet (a brief Kirstie Alley) is unable to safely extract the nail, the now unemployed Alice is compelled by an ad featuring a local politician. Young freshman representative Howard Birdwell (Gyllenhaal) promises to solve problems with a can-do attitude.

Alice teams up with Reverend Norman (Kurt Fuller), a minister whose mistreated erectile dysfunction has led to bigger penile problems, and his friend Keyshawn (Tracy Morgan), who is suffering from a prolapsed rectum. The three gather in the Reverend's church bus and head to Washington, D.C. There, they discover that the charismatic Howard is little more than a pawn for the House whip Pam Hendrickson (Catherine Keener), a former astronaut who is set on building a military base on the moon.

After a passionate portrait-tearing sexual encounter (horniness is one of the nail's side effects), Howard agrees to back Alice's emergency health care bill, but there are many obstacles which stand in the way, especially with Hendrickson determined to get her moon base bill passed.

Congressman Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal) renounces his party membership and declares himself independent to support Alice's emergency health care bill.

However Russell discovered the magic touch he currently possesses, he clearly did not locate it prior to The Fighter.
I am among the many who would argue Russell has made three great films in a row. Few will calculate the streak at four, whether they count Accidental before or after his decorated "trilogy of re-invention." Accidental Love is not a great movie, nor even a good one. Political satire is such a tough thing to pull off in film and this doesn't even come close to doing so. Tone, one of the things that are just perfect on Russell's three most recent films, never feels right on this comedy.

Biel doesn't have the chops for the broad material she's asked to do. In fact, very few actors could draw big laughs from such content (Amy Poehler comes to mind, but that may be simply because of her work on a far smarter and funnier political satire). Gyllenhaal has proven himself dramatically, but his track record in comedy, from the much-maligned Bubble Boy pre-stardom to the awful Love & Other Drugs, is poor. Keener, who rarely attempts this sort of thing, acquits herself and the cast's biggest standout is Marsden, who has had trouble finding projects worthy of his sharp comedy chops.

Accidental Love's problems go beyond production starts and stops. The movie is surprisingly subpar on a technical level, something you rarely encounter these days in a movie with in-demand talent. The lighting and camerawork are glaringly askew at times, which might explain why cinematographer Max Malkin has such a thin and unfortunate résumé (biggest credit: Step Up 2: The Streets). There is some evidence of a studio trying to salvage this in post-production. In a few places, sound effects -- a record needle scratch, a wolf howl -- are added to punch up the humor. They do not succeed. The pivotal scene of Alice getting struck by the nail is achieved by two very clumsy face-replacing shots, obviously the awkward product of those rumored 2013 reshoots. There are also several sightings of actor Toby Jones at a funeral scene. Uncredited, he's never shown up close and when he's about to speak, the movie cuts away. It's unusual for a recognizable actor's character to be deleted in such clunky fashion.

Of the David O. Russell canon, this movie most resembles Flirting with Disaster, though it lacks that 1996 comedy's agreeably anxious vibe and far more proven personnel. Admittedly, I attribute much of that average film's charm to the allure of only recently discovering a '90s movie full of appealing actors who have since gone on to much greater success. Accidental does not seem destined for such a fate, although it does briefly feature Bill Hader.

Accidental Love Blu-ray Disc cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($19.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Accidental Love's technical shortcomings were big enough to mention above. Whether they are primarily the products of incompetent filmmaking,
shoddy after-the-fact completion, or Millennium's Blu-ray transfer, I'm not sure, but I suspect it's a combination of the first two. The 1.78:1 presentation does look a tad cramped at times, but the studio hasn't been guilty of cropping a wider film to match the prevalent 16:9 screen standard in some time, and the 1.78:1 trailer suggests that's not an issue here. But there are plenty of other visual issues, from shots that look out of focus to poor black levels and coloring in some scenes. Since such problems do not regularly turn up on Millennium Blu-rays, I'm guessing the film itself and its ambiguous completion that are to blame.

The default Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is fine, blending those post-production sound effects with crisp dialogue and music meant to strengthen the feeble comedy. A little, but not most, of Alice's Portuguese dialogue is translated by burned-in subtitle.

Accidental Love's trailer spells out its implausible premise. Assorted lobbyists pose with the Speaker of the House and house whip on the Accidental Love Blu-ray menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

While this doomed production would appear to lend to a legendary, tell-all making-of documentary/retrospective,
that unsurprisingly doesn't come here and may never come if the movie, as you suspect, fails to generate interest. This isn't Apocalypse Now, you know.

Accidental Love's only bonus feature is its HD theatrical trailer (2:10), which joins the disc-opening SD ones for The Humbling, Elsa & Fred, By the Gun, and Kidnapping Mr. Heineken on the Previews menu.

The cheerily-scored menu places listings on a yellow bar over a standard montage of clips. The Blu-ray resumes unfinished playback of the film like a DVD, but doesn't let you set bookmarks.

No slipcover or inserts attempt to jazz up the standard blue keepcase, although at least the disc gets a full-color label.

Alice (Jessica Biel) leads a Girl Squaw camp-out on Capitol Hill, which Scott (James Marsden) crashes.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As everyone else will tell you and as foretold from its troubled production and untimely release, Accidental Love is a bad movie, something director David O. Russell no longer seems capable of making. Nonetheless, there are much worse movies out there given wide distribution, a fact that along with low expectations should somewhat cushion the blow of its failings.

If you are fond of the cast or, like me, simply incredibly intrigued by the prospect of seeing the long-shelved movie Russell disowned before his current hot streak, you'll want to give this a look. Just don't expect much.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by "Stephen Greene": American Hustle • Silver Linings Playbook • The Fighter
Jessica Biel: I'll Be Home for Christmas • Next • The A-Team
Jake Gyllenhaal: Prisoners • Zodiac • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time • Nightcrawler
James Marsden: Enchanted • Death at a Funeral (2010) • Robot & Frank • Hop
Catherine Keener: Begin Again • Please Give • Being John Malkovich • Cyrus
New to Blu-ray: Empire Records • Singles • St. Vincent | Political Comedy: The Campaign • Swing Vote

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Reviewed April 9, 2015.



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