Accidents Happen

Accidents Happen


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Accidents do, indeed, happen and one can only assume it was by dint of one that the wonderful Geena Davis came to sign on the dotted line for this. And it is not by accident, but rather design, that things go badly wrong right from the start of this "comedy drama" that could probably be had up under the trades descriptions act.

Davis plays mum-of-four Gloria Conway, who, near the beginning of the movie, is seen with husband Ray (Joel Tobeck), twin sons Larry (Flynn Colby) and Gene (Joshua Denyer), younger son Billy (Karl Beattie) and daughter Linda (Ivy Latimer) attending a drive-in. The family have gone on the jaunt to help Billy forget about the fact that he has just witnessed a tragic - slow motion - barbecue accident, in which is elderly neighbour dies. This is the not the last slow-motion accident of the day, however, as, on the way home in the rain, the family will find itself irrevocably altered by a crash in which Linda is killed and Gene reduced to a vegetative state.

Copy picture

What emotional life there is in this set up - and with so much is going on, there isn't much - is crushed by dreadful narration. Rather than rely on the audience to watch the characters and learn about them, we're instructed on what each one is feeling by Tyler Copin's unecessary, unexplained and overpowering voice-over. Those few early scenes in which we get to actually see some acting going on without him sticking in his tuppence worth are ruined either by unecessarily amped up music or repeated use of slo-mo, which has the unfortunate effect of rendering them about as moving as a pop video.

In fairness, things do settle down a little after we flash-forward eight years to see what has become of the Conways. Dad has now left home for another woman, with Billy (now played by Harrison Gilbertson) acting as a lightning rod for the emotions of his dad, mum and brother Larry (Harry Cook). Gene sits motionless in a wheelchair in hospital with his mother unable to visit, while Billy - looking for a decompression outlet of his own - begins to hang around with the neighbour's kid Doug (Sebastian Gregory), embarking on a series of escalating pranks which will inadvertantly set in motion yet another accident that has ramifications for all of them.

This barely scratches the surface of a film which layers on plot point after plot point and under-used character after under-used character without managing to generate any proper emotional resonance. It's the sort of rambling structure that would be better suited to a mini-series and, in fact, writer Brian Carbee - who adapted this from semi-autobiographical short play/film In Search Of Mike - seems to be struggling to attain the sort of weight achieved by the likes of Alan Ball in Six Feet Under. Davis, acting her socks off, is the only one who triumphs over the material, managing to bring a level of humanity to her poorly written role. There are moments that are visually memorable and suggest Lancaster is capable of much better than this - the sight of the boys chasing a bowling ball down a street, a moment when two of them streak through a supermarket - but occasional good looking scene structure can't make up for the lack of an engaging narrative.

The setting is also very problematic. Ostensibly taking place in American suburbia, the film - which was shot in New South Wales - screams Australia. The 'burbs look wrong and the 'American' accents of the children and other supporting cast (almost all of whom are Aussies or New Zealanders) slip and slide all over the place. There's no good reason why the entire story couldn't have been set in Australia and the whole contrivance seems to have been created purely to fit round Davis's accent. Perhaps it is just as well, because she really is the only reason to go the distance.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2010
Share this with others on...
Accidents Happen packshot
The struggles of a dysfunctional family in the years following a tragic accident.
Amazon link

Director: Andrew Lancaster

Writer: Brian Carbee, based on his own book

Starring: Geena Davis, Joel Tobeck, Erik Thomson, Sebastian Gregory, Morgan Griffin, Rebecca Massey, Harry Cook, Harrison Gilbertson, Katrina Retallick, Viva Bianca

Year: 2009

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: Australia, UK

Search database:

If you like this, try:

American Beauty