Movie Review: “Accidental Love”

Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal, James Marsden, Catherine Keener, Tracy Morgan, James Brolin
Stephen Greene

“Accidental Love” did not have a smooth production process, and it shows in the stitched-together final product. The comedy was initially a David O. Russell film titled “Nailed,” shot all the way back in 2008. But due to funding issues, the movie never completed principal photography, and what was once Russell’s “Nailed” is now being released under the pseudonym Stephen Greene as “Accidental Love.”

The film centers on Alice Eckle (Jessica Biel), a small-town, roller-skating fast food waitress. On a night out with her boyfriend (played by the always reliable James Marsden), Alice not only gets a ring on her finger, but a nail in her head thanks to a freak accident. Making her situation worse, Alice doesn’t have health insurance, meaning she can’t get the nail taken out unless she magically comes up with $150,000. And until her condition is taken care of, she’ll experience uncontrollable emotions and wild thoughts. Ultimately, Alice heads to the nation’s capital and enlists the help of young congressman Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal), who, with the assistance of a few friends and familiar faces, will try to change the health care system in order to get the nail removed from Alice’s head.

Anyone expecting a sharp political satire will walk away disappointed. “Accidental Love,” which was co-written by former Vice President Al Gore’s daughter, Kristen, is a hugely broad comedy. The film has more in common with a sitcom than movies like “Bulworth” or “Wag the Dog,” but that doesn’t mean “Accidental Love” isn’t without its laughs. When a cast includes James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, Kurt Fuller and Bill Hader, not all jokes are going to fall flat. Marsden continues to prove he’s one of the most undervalued comedic actors working today. The former “X-Men” star has no shortage of charisma, so it’s baffling that this guy still isn’t a huge movie star. Marsden is a supporting player here, but he comes away stealing the show, even during the redundant and awkward post-credits sequence. As for Biel, it’s impossible to come away from “Accidental Love” without feeling bad for her. She’s charming and funny in a way audiences haven’t seen from her before, fully committing to the lunacy of this story.

If “Accidental Love” came out years ago with David O. Russell still involved, perhaps her fine performance would be headlining a movie that actually lives up to her work. There’s almost always something off about “Accidental Love.” The film doesn’t move at a very quick pace, despite the story not having a whole lot to say; certain scenes are polished and well-shot, while others are dim and awkwardly cut together; and the broad humor often shifts from underwhelming to overwhelming. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is way too cartoonish, for example. What makes Gyllenhaal’s work in “Nightcrawler” so hilarious is the fact that Lou Bloom doesn’t know how funny he is. In “Accidental Love,” the actor is always highlighting the joke, rather than letting the character’s immature behavior speak for itself.

Make no mistake, this film is a mess, and yet strangely, it’s worth seeing. “Accidental Love” bares many of Russell’s old sensibilities and trademarks. There’s plenty of comedic dutch angle shots, which we rarely see from the writer-director these days, and like his early work, the humor isn’t for everyone. Nowadays, Russell is making movies for the masses, albeit to great results, but seeing this side to the filmmaker that brought us “I Heart Huckabees” and “Three Kings” is oddly refreshing, despite “Accidental Love” being more of a failure than a success.