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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Orphan


Orphan

Vera Farmiga and Isabelle Fuhrmann share a mother-daughter moment.

(Warner Brothers) Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrmann, CCH Pounder, Jimmy Bennett, Margo Martindale, Karel Roden, Aryana Engineer. Directed by Jaume Collett-Serra

How simple the love of a child. We take it for granted that our children are innocent and loving. Those who have the courage to adopt are bringing an unknown factor into their lives. There’s a presumption of good in every child, but not all children are good. Some, in fact, are very, very bad.

Kate (Farmiga) and John (Sarsgaard) Coleman have been through the wringer. Kate, although sober now, has had bouts with the bottle and the bottle generally won. While she was drunk her son Daniel (Bennett) nearly drowned, putting a serious strain on their marriage. Their daughter Max (Engineer) is deaf and while precocious and cute can be a handful.

They tried to have a third child by way of patching up their differences, but the child died stillborn. Despite having a whole lot of baggage to unpack in their marriage, they decide to adopt because nothing solves marital problems like adding another kid to the mix.

They head down to the local orphanage and are immediately smitten with Esther (Fuhrmann), a real charmer who is also a talented painter. She speaks in heavily accented English and at times clearly is unsure of the right words to use, but she is nearly perfect in many ways.

Of course, nothing and nobody are perfect and Esther is certainly not. She has quite a temper which sometimes leads her to all sorts of mischief. She also is a possessive sort and she has locked her radar on John, who is the understanding parent of the decade. Kate, not so much – she begins to get suspicious when people start having “accidents” around Esther, nearly all of whom pissed her off in some way. She tries to get people to see what she’s seeing, but most dismiss it as the hysteria of a woman who is a few centavos shy of a peso.

However, as is invariably true in horror movies, when people fail to listen to the Cassandra-like character, things go very, very badly for them. Kate realizes that her unheeded warnings could end up in utter tragedy for her family. Will she be able to protect them from such a little angel?

Collett-Serra previously directed the very flawed House of Wax remake and while this is a little less flawed, it nonetheless doesn’t establish him as a horror movie talent quite yet. Killer kids are not a particularly new contrivance (see The Bad Seed and The Good Son) so if you’re going to do a movie about them, you need something a little bit different to set your film apart from the others.

In this case, there is a doozy of a twist in the last reel that left me thinking that this movie wasn’t so bad after all. Unfortunately, it takes a real long time to get there. Collett-Serra directs this at a snail’s pace, with an enormous amount of exposition without enough pay-off to justify it. He relies too much on a jumpy musical score to set up false scares and other clichés of the genre rather than establishing a really creepy mood. The sad thing is, he’s capable of just that – the last ten minutes of the movie prove it.

Sarsgaard and Farmiga are both capable actors who give their roles some depth. Sarsgaard’s John is a supposed to be essentially a saint and a bit bland; Sarsgaard makes him believable and elevates the role with a better performance than was written.

Fuhrmann does a first-rate job as the homicidal pre-teen. The problem with having a child actor carry too much of a movie is that there are very few capable of doing it. Over the past several years there have been several phenomenal child actresses that have emerged – Dakota Fanning and Abigail Breslin to name two – and Fuhrmann may well join that list. Hopefully she’ll get some meaty roles from her performance here.

Orphan isn’t a terrible movie; it’s just a lazy one. It tries to set its mood up by standard Scary Movie 101 means rather than trying to develop it through performance and good writing. The results are a movie that doesn’t feel terrifying so much as bland, and despite some decent performances and a pretty good ending, don’t rise above the clichés of the genre to make a much better movie than what we got.

WHY RENT THIS: There are some truly frightening moments. Sarsgaard gives a terrific performance and Fuhrmann is awesome as the malicious child. The twist at the end is interesting.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many hoary horror film clichés (the screeching violins to signify a false scare etc.) and a little too much stretching of believability.

FAMILY VALUES: While this isn’t gore-heavy, there are some scenes of sudden and horrifying violence, some sexuality and some really disturbing content. Not suitable for the young or the impressionable.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The language spoken by the receptionist at the Saarne Institute is Estonian.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing listed.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Zack and Miri Make a Porno