In the beginning there was David O Russell’s Nailed, a political comedy which began filming in 2008 and, after a disastrous string of financing problems, seemingly died two years later. Deciding to cut his losses, a frustrated Russell abandoned the project in 2010 and moved onto Oscar glory with The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.
But like Rasputin, Nailed has lingered on without Russell’s involvement. Missing pieces have been shot and put in place, and the finished film – now called Accidental Love – is credited to one Stephen Greene, an Alan Smithee-like pseudonym. The result is a fitfully amusing farce that can’t begin to hide the scars of its troubled production.
Jessica Biel stars as Alice, an 25-year-old small-town waitress who’s caught the eye of vain local cop, Scott (James Marsden). But just as Scott’s about to slip an engagement ring on Alice’s finger, a clumsy workman falls off a ladder and shoots Alice in the head with a nail gun. Without medical insurance and unable to pay the $150,000 cost of having the nail removed, Alice’s life falls apart – the mood swings and impulsive behaviour caused by the injury driving a wedge between Alice and those around her.
Alice therefore heads to Washington DC to lobby a charismatic congressman, Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal) to introduce a healthcare act for those with similarly curious injuries. In the process, Alice embarks on a passionate affair with Birdwell, and comes up against a fearsome Republican politician, Hendrickson (Christine Keener) who’s more interested in building missile bases on the Moon than medical reform.
David O Russell embarked on making Nailed after the financial disappointment of I Heart Huckabees, and this film has the same heightened, slightly manic air to its performances. Gyllenhaal imagines Birdwell as a wild-eyed ball of nervous energy that falls somewhere between his performance in Nightcrawler and Beaker out of the Muppets. The real coup here is Biel, whose leading turn as Alice is superb – gutsy, emotional and timed to comic perfection. If there’s cause to celebrate Accidental Love’s escape from the archives, it’s that Biel’s rare shot at a leading role with depth has finally seen the light of day.
Elsewhere, there are some great comedy moments, including a YouTube video made by a bunch of girl guides, and a jaw-dropping advert unofficially made by Keener’s villainous politician. There are also some decent contributions from Tracy Morgan and Kurt Fuller as supporting characters with their own bizarre injuries, plus Paul Reubens as Keener’s obsequious aide and Kirstie Alley as a drunken vet.
(James Brolin also appears in a single scene, filling in for James Caan. The latter walked off the set after a disagreement with David O Russell over the execution of the perfect cough.)
Those laughs aside, Accidental Love bears all the hallmarks of a film assembled from a rough cut. The key scene where Alice sustains her injury is underlit and risibly disjointed. Some of the takes are poorly chosen (one shot even has background characters clearly staring straight at the camera crew), and the knife-and-fork editing takes us from scene to scene with disconcerting jerks. A more conventionally shot movie may have gotten away with such patchy splicing, but much of Accidental Love is filmed with a constantly roving camera – not to mention lots of woozy Battlefield Earth-like Dutch tilts – so individual sequences never quite cut together with a pleasing flow.
Even the film’s premise sits awkwardly in 2015. Since Accidental Love was shelved, Obamacare came in, deactivating much of the film’s political charge (Kristen Gore, daughter of Al Gore, is among the screenwriters).
Messy though it is, a certain good-natured fun shines through the movie – it’s certainly fared better than, say, Tiptoes, the heavily re-edited comedy from 2003 that Matthew McConaughey, Kate Beckinsale and Gary Oldman (who, bizarrely, stars as a dwarf) would probably prefer to forget.
Far from an embarrassment, Accidental Love is just about worth watching for the moments when the gags really hit their mark.
Accidental Love is out in UK cinemas on the 19th June.
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