Care and control are vital in the creation of successful satire. Bearing that in mind, Accidental Love never really had a chance. The production began way back in 2008 as a film called Nailed with David O. Russell directing. After budgetary issues and multiple shutdowns, Russell walked away in 2010 and has since disowned the film, which is now credited under the pseudonym Stephen Greene. Russell went on to helm three consecutive Best Picture nominees, a feat unlikely to be duplicated by this Greene character.
Alice Eckle (Jessica Biel) is a carhop serving up burgers and fries to the fine folks of her small Indiana town. She’s ready to settle down with state trooper boyfriend Scott (James Marsden), but before she’s able to accept his dinner-date proposal, a worker slips and embeds a nail in her skull. Emergency room doctors halt surgery because Alice doesn’t have insurance and can’t afford the $150,000 fee. After seeing an ad from Congressman Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal), Alice heads to Washington D.C. to lobby for the freshman representative’s assistance. She gets caught up in the political machine when House Whip Pam Hendrickson (Catherine Keener) uses the injured woman, along with a troop of Girl Scouts, as pawns to garner support for her proposed military base on the moon.
Though it’s been shelved for a half-decade and bears the earmarks of being somewhat cobbled together – a stock score and a bit of rough editing among them – Accidental Love manages to remain mostly intelligible. But when mere coherence is the primary compliment, it’s not a good sign. We’re able to follow along with the wannabe madcap antics, but there’s no real bite to the farce. Mocking the government as self-serving, out of touch, and ineffective at helping those it was designed to serve isn’t exactly a novel concept, and the sarcasm crosshairs remain pointed at the lowest-hanging fruit with little nuance to the ribbing.
The film isn’t only broad (which is perfectly fine), it’s unfocused. We’ll never know if a good film could’ve been created under the consistent guidance of Russell, though at times you can see bridges between the philosophical comedy of I Heart Huckabees and the schemers of American Hustle. We start in a quaint town that oozes Americana – Alice’s roller-skating waitress is introduced during a classic car show that hammers home the vision of a ’50s-era utopia. Her very personal injury then leads to lobbying for the military moon base that will “protect us all” – a concern those in Small Town, USA likely don’t have. Nothing of interest is ever done with the contradictions and mutations, however, and Accidental Love is content to coast on its surface shenanigans. A short attack ad on Girl Scouts that touts them as lesbians pushing an agenda is the best nonsensical barb we get.
The title is perhaps too apropos in describing the relationship between Alice and Howard, their torrid romance feeling more like an obligation to pad out the runtime with a love triangle and augment the oddity. Also superfluous are side effects of Alice’s injury – violent outbursts and occasionally speaking in Portuguese, traits befitting of a flat sketch character. That’s slightly more dimension than a couple of her supporters in the fight for universal health care have – Norm (Kurt Fuller), a priest with a permanent erection, and Keyshawn (Tracy Morgan), a former bodybuilder with a different below-the-belt issue.
Much of the cast buys into the nonsense, but they have nothing to sell. Biel delivers a few impassioned speeches that lack significance (or fail to effectively mine the idea of political insignificance, if you prefer). Marsden embraces his doltish, charming trooper, the verbalizing of his statistical analyses good for a chuckle or two. The usually solid Gyllenhaal fails to make a real impression here, seemingly using his twitchy congressman to workshop ideas for future off-kilter characters, though it’s not like this material would benefit from a more steady performance. The mix of slapstick and satire is too inherently flawed to save.