DVD Review: Accidents Happen (2009)

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By reteaming with dancer, teacher and writer Brian Carbee with whom Australian director Andrew Lancaster crafted his award-winning breakthrough short film In Search of Mike, Lancaster once again finds creative inspiration in Carbee's life for this dark yet nonetheless oddly touching coming-of-age dramedy.

Based on Carbee's truth-is-stranger-than-fiction autobiography which he adapted into screenplay form from his book, the film opens by introducing us to the extraordinary bad luck that follows Carbee's onscreen alter ego Billy Conway.

Yet despite the fact that the film is done zero favors by such a bland bumper sticker title along with both a score and voice-over narration that makes you think Lancaster's crew watched Magnolia a few too many times before work commenced, the tragically macabre opening sequences of Accidents jolt viewers so violently that all comparisons fly right out of our heads.

It's just a shame that Lancaster and Carbee were unable to maintain that level of intense originality from start to finish.

Serving as a near prologue, we watch in surprised horror as bizarre events kill off first Billy's neighbor before further misfortune hits the Conways right where they live, with one child landing in the morgue and another in a nursing home by the end of the same hellish day.

Jumping ahead eight years to show the way that the Conways have struggled to adapt, we encounter Billy's sharp tongued expletive dropping mom (Geena Davis) who refuses to divorce the husband who's left her or visit the son who's now a vegetable.

Likewise, we also discover what's become of the remaining children as Billy's older brother has taken to drinking heavily and Billy (Harrison Gilbertson) has morphed into the model son by taking care of his mom all the while numbing himself to feeling anything.

Needless to say, it's our protagonist Billy is the one that tugs on our heart strings the most, especially after devastation arrives once more courtesy of a bowling ball. However, I couldn't help but feel like the filmmakers were shortchanging us on his story as well as it seems to hint at a possible gay subtext but then trades that in favor of some cliched family drama as they learn that dad has moved on.

Similarly even though Accidents is set in American suburbia during the Reagan administration to best represent Carbee's own life growing up in the U.S. before he moved to Australia, one of the major problems with Lancaster's film is the fact that Academy Award winning actress Geena Davis is the only bona fide American thing about the entire work.

And granted the fact that the refreshingly earnest cast of nonprofessional performers helps enhance the authenticity of making us feel like we're stumbling onto old home movies of someone's life without the distraction of major stars yet because it's filmed in Australia with actors who keep slipping back into their own accents, it never remains convincing for long.

Furthermore because we're constantly flooded with American dysfunctional family portraits of tragedies that interfere with a main character's coming-of-age, it probably would've worked to the film's considerable advantage to adapt the screenplay to Carbee's adopted Australian homeland since it's a fictional effort instead of a documentary after all.

However, the one American advantage they have is indeed its strongest asset. Namely, Geena Davis is a wonder throughout, elevating Lancaster's finished product repeatedly even though her overly analytical character is incredibly abrasive, making me start to cringe before she even opened her mouth once we reached the halfway point.

Unflinchingly confrontational and daring, it's safe to say that Lancaster's imperfect yet auspicious feature length debut is not for all tastes because it centers on the belief that misery loves not only company but especially loves the hell out of the ridiculously unlucky Conways – to the point where you could rename Murphy's Law after them.

Yet unlike a majority of other dime-a-dozen film festival tales of American dysfunction, due to the amount of tragedy Accidents encompasses, chances are you'll remember this one much more than the rest... even if you may forget the title by the time you press eject.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.