Happy Accidents

2001, R, 110 min. Directed by Brad Anderson. Starring Marisa Tomei, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tovah Feldshuh, Holland Taylor, Nadia Dajani, Sean Gullette, Bronson Dudley.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 21, 2001

With Vincent D'Onofrio in full-on goofball mode and Marisa Tomei apparently so ill-fed she can't stop gnawing on her lower lip in a futile search for sustenance, Brad Anderson's oddly retro romantic comedy seems perpetually poised on the edge of lameness. It's a film that dares you to take it seriously, and then, by the time the contrived, silly, and far too wonderful ending rolls around you find yourself flummoxed by how much you enjoyed it after all. It's the cinematic equivalent of dating a puffin. Anderson, of Next Stop Wonderland fame, directs as if he's channeling one part Cassavetes to two parts Wallace Shawn, and the result is so preciously New Yawk City that you can smell the cabbies. Never mind that the film could for all intents and purposes have been set in Anytown, USA. Tomei and D'Onofrio, with an able assist from Tovah Feldshuh, of all people, improv their way (so it seems) through a reliable host of New Yorkisms, with Tomei's hard-boiled, scrunchy-faced naïf leading the way. What, Marlo Thomas was busy? D'Onofrio plays Sam Deed, a hospice-care worker who runs into Tomei's Ruby Weaver in the park one afternoon. She's a recovering co-dependent given to hanging out with her friends, notably Dajani's Gretchen, and musing about the sorry state of men in the world. Luckily for her, Sam isn't from this world. He's from the future, he tells her, and not just next week, either, but 400 years in the future, circa Dubuque, Iowa, to be precise. Despite every single warning bell onboard her fragile psyche going off simultaneously at this unexpected revelation, Ruby falls for the big oaf (and clad as he is in oversized menswear and sporting a variety of nervous tics and twitches, big oaf is clearly the vibe D'Onofrio is aiming for here) and resolves, with the help of her uptown therapist (Taylor), to save Sam from himself, neuroses and all. The big question is, of course, is there more to this guy than meets the eye? If you need me to answer that one for you then, chances are, you'll hate this film, but if you can check your incredulity at the door you'll find Anderson's film will generate a surprising, unexpected charm. Much of this comes from Tomei and D'Onofrio's winning characters, but there's an equal amount of Sixties kitsch at work here as well. Although set in the present, Happy Accidents seems like a just-discovered slice of early Sixties arcana, replete with Tomei's super-spunky, hopelessly romantic heroine and D'Onofrio's sweet-natured mensch, a futuristic screwball terrified of small dogs and unable to distinguish between a carnation and a rose because, he tells her, they no longer exist where he comes from. I kept waiting for Maynard G. Krebs to drop in, but apparently he was at the Village Vanguard. While this isn't for everyone -- it really does seem to be firing on purely improvisational cylinders half the time, which often makes the whole affair seem oddly unreal instead of the other way around -- taken as a whole, Happy Accidents is gleefully silly fun, with a few core concepts on the nature of time, space, and la-la-la-love thrown in for good measure. And who can resist a puffin, anyway?

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Happy Accidents, Brad Anderson, Marisa Tomei, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tovah Feldshuh, Holland Taylor, Nadia Dajani, Sean Gullette, Bronson Dudley

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