Accidents Happen


Sometimes all you can do is try to look chic in the face of disaster.

Sometimes all you can do is try to look chic in the face of disaster.

(2009) Drama (Image) Geena Davis, Harrison Gilbertson, Harry Cook, Joel Tobeck, Wendy Playfair, Sebastian Gregory, Sarah Woods, Morgan Griffin, Troy Planet, Erik Thomson, Viva Bianca, Rebecca Massey, Katrina Retalick, Jayden Hall, Damien Garvey, Peter Lamb, Johnny Xenos, Ivy Latimer, Karl Beattie, Tyler Coppin (voice), Rosslyn Powell. Directed by Andrew Lancaster

Some people are just inherently luckier than others. They seem to lead charmed lives and little if anything bad ever happens to them. Conversely, there are those born under a bad sign. Nothing ever seems to go right for them and if it weren’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all. They are the kings and queens of bad breaks.

Billy Conway (Gilbertson) is one of those latter sorts. A car accident left one of his brothers dead, another brother in a vegetative coma, a third brother (Cook) constantly at his throat and his parents Ray (Tobeck) and Gloria (Davis) in the process of divorce. Billy starts hanging out with neighborhood friend Doug Post (Gregory), a mischievous sort. However when they are fooling around with a bowling ball, their shenanigans leads to a Rube Goldberg-sort of accident that leaves Doug’s father dead. Their role in the accident has gone unnoticed by the police but Billy’s guilt and feeling of living under a curse begins to prey on his mind, necessitating his own confrontation with his family’s past.

I was somewhat surprised to discover that this is in fact an Australian film written by an American, set in Connecticut (based on the writer’s own childhood recollections) with Australian actors (except for Ms. Davis) playing American accents. I should say, mainly inexperienced Australian actors but more on that below.

I can give the film props for cutting out the twee indie cuteness that is so prevalent in modern independent films. And while this movie is marketed as a comedy, it really isn’t one. It’s not even a dramedy – it’s more of a drama with some comedic overtones. Certainly the idea of a family curse can be thought to be in and of itself funny although if you were in said family I suppose you wouldn’t find it very funny. However, this really isn’t played for laughs.

Davis, one of my favorite actresses of the 80s (see The Fly and Beetlejuice) and the 90s (see Thelma and Louise and A League of Their Own) but since her acclaimed performance in The Long Kiss Goodnight in 1996 she has appeared only in three Stuart Little films and this, having devoted her attentions to activist causes and television roles. Her Gloria is a force of nature, foul of language and quick of wit. She’s fiercely loyal to her children but she’s been given quite a battering from life which has certainly had its effects on her.

The rest of the Australian cast is largely inexperienced and it shows. Accents slip regularly and there is a lot of mugging that goes on in lieu of acting which is awfully choppy at times. The concentration of a family curse which is played for drama is self-defeating; it turns the characters into self-pitying parodies which largely turns the audience off – at least in my case it did.

This isn’t completely without merit although I would have liked to have seen a little more experience in some of the lead roles. While I’m all for giving newcomers a break, there were too many of them and I suspect that Ms. Davis simply didn’t have the bandwidth to mentor all of them. Worthwhile simply for seeing Geena Davis on the big screen, sadly it’s brief theatrical run went largely unnoticed so you’ll have to be content with home video for this one.

WHY RENT THIS: A rare star turn for Davis who is sadly far-too-absent from the screen. Less pretentious than some indies.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Pushes it’s “unlucky family” conceit a bit too much. Most of the rest of the cast is less credible in their roles.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of foul language and at least one disturbing scene. There is also some teen drug and alcohol use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Originally supposed to be filmed in Connecticut, the producers decided to film in Australia due to costs, but then ran into some local opposition when their shooting schedule in suburban St. Ives was seen to disrupt local traffic and lives with local residents threatening to wave lights and play bagpipes in order to cause disruption to the production. Eventually, they were able to negotiate a truce and filming took place over two days with the critical car crash scene moved elsewhere.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $188,160 on a $5.8M production budget; was a box office flop.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: My One and Only

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: The Hangover Part III

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Another Earth


Another Earth

Brit Marling checks out a different point of view.

(2011) Science Fiction (Fox Searchlight) Brit Marling, William Mapother, Jordan Baker, Robin Lord Taylor, Flint Beverage, Diane Ciesla, Bruce Winant, Natalie Carter, Meggan Lennon, AJ Diana, Kumar Pallana, Ana Kayne, Matthew-Lee Erlbach. Directed by Mike Cahill

From time to time, we all do something wrong – either through our actions or inaction, we cause others pain and/or suffering. It is our human nature to want to make amends. However sometimes the things we do are so unforgivable that no amends are possible.

Rhoda Williams (Marling), a high school senior at West Haven High School in New Haven, Connecticut has just been accepted to MIT in the field of astrophysics. She goes out with friends to celebrate and winds up celebrating a bit too much, getting herself well and truly hammered. While driving home, she hears  a news report about the discovery of a new Earth-like planet visible in the night sky. As she cranes her head to take a look, she runs a stop sign and her car slams into another car, putting its driver into a coma and killing his pregnant wife and son instantly. Rhoda is sentenced to prison although because she’s a minor, her name is never released.

Flash-forward four years. A guilt-wracked Rhoda has just been released from prison. Even though she qualifies for better positions, she takes  a job as a janitor at her old high school. The new Earth is large in the night sky now, visible as a beautiful blue moon. It is coming closer and will soon be close enough for a manned mission to be possible. An Australian entrepreneur comes up with  the scheme to fly civilians to the new world and launches an essay contest for worthy participants in this adventure. Rhoda, still fascinated by other worlds, decides impulsively to enter.

Her crime gnaws at her however and eventually she makes her way to the home of the surviving victim who came out of his coma while she was in jail. John Burroughs (Mapother) was a noted composer before the accident; now he mostly is a hermit, uncaring and uncared for. She wants to apologize but is unable to bring herself to do it. Instead, she offers him a free trial housecleaning. After some reluctance, John accepts.

A one day free trial turns into a weekly housecleaning. A relationship begins to form. John begins to awaken from his life coma. Boundaries are crossed. And in the sky another Earth, an exact duplicate to this one inhabited by doppelgangers of the inhabitants of this Earth, becomes large and majestic, a serene, unblinking witness to events on our world.

This was an independent movie that became quite a sensation at this year’s Sundance, prompting a bidding war among distributors. It’s easy to see why. While ostensibly science fiction, this is actually more of a drama about atonement and moving on. However, it can easily also be interpreted about having several other themes, from rebirth to individual uniqueness to personal growth. Pick one; pick ’em all. You won’t be wrong.

The movie is underlit for the most part and sometimes grainy, with a lot of it being shot in the handheld style rather than on a tripod. This gives it a sort of kinetic energy while lending it an almost intimate “home movie” feel. For my own personal taste, a little of that is more effective and too much comes off as pretentious and too self-aware. Fortunately, the filmmakers don’t quite achieve those undesirable qualities.

Mapother is a respected character actor whose face you’ll probably recognize before the name (he is perhaps best known for his recurring character Ethan Rom on the much-missed TV show “Lost”). Here he is the romantic lead, a role that is certainly not one associated with him (even if he is Tom Cruise’s cousin and shares the same amazing smile) in his career to date. He is professorial here – a good thing since his character is a teacher – and vulnerable, obviously marinating in pain. As hope begins as an ember within him, we witness a bit of a transformation – subtle but undeniable.

Marling, who co-wrote the script and also garnered a production credit here has a far more difficult role in many ways and doesn’t quite hit all the right notes, but enough of them to make it a compelling performance. Her Rhoda is drowning in guilt, reaching out for the life preserver of forgiveness and instead finding herself holding on to the anchor of penance. Rhoda is brilliant but as young people are wont to do, makes some egregious mistakes. She becomes obsessed with the consequences of her accident and that obsession leads her to doing things I don’t think most of us would ever consider doing.

There are some beautiful shots of big blue planet Earth 2 hanging in the sky, growing gradually bigger as the movie goes on until it is a presence in the sky bigger than the moon. I like that the movie presented scientific debate on the nature of Earth 2 and asked a number of philosophical questions about the nature of our existence and how it would change if we knew there were doubles of ourselves running around somewhere.

Don’t trouble yourself overly much with questions about the science – asking what the presence of a planet the size of our own in such close proximity would do to our own world (one suspects the tidal forces of the gravity between the two planets would eventually tear both planets apart) or where this previously unknown world came from is not what this movie is all about. Rather, it is about questioning ourselves. Could we ask forgiveness? Could we forgive? Are we truly unique? All questions worth asking.

The final shot is ambiguous enough to remind you that a good filmmaker doesn’t answer your questions; they just inspire you to ask them in the first place. While I might have appreciated a little bit tighter on the editing (shots of Rhoda wringing her hands and looking soulful are only necessary once for a brief moment of time to indicate her anguish), this is nonetheless a very strong effort and indicates to me that we’ll be hearing much more in the future from Cahill, Marling and Mapother.

REASONS TO GO: The story can be interpreted in a whole lot of different ways. Mapother does a great job here.

REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally submits to “Look, Ma, I’m directing” syndrome. Also has moments of pretentiousness.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s quite a bit of foul language, a little bit of nudity, some drug use and a somewhat disturbing accident sequence..

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cahill used his own childhood home in New Haven, Connecticut to double as the Williams home; Rhoda’s bedroom was actually his own.

HOME OR THEATER: While this is out in limited release, some of the vistas of the new planet are spectacular and worth seeing on a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Big Momma’s House