There comes a time in any romantic relationship when the couple in question drops the carefully cultivated dating personas. You know, when the pleasant, smiling, eternally non-plussed character designed to impress the other party gives way to the real person underneath. Sometimes this reveals delightful quirks that only serve to endear the one to the other. Sometimes this reveals quirks that take some getting used. Somtimes this leads to goodbyes and good lucks. In the case of Brad Andersons HAPPY ACCIDENTS, this quirk is either dangerous madness or the most romantic gesture that you could possibly imagine.
Of course all love is a form of madness, and no one knows this better than loser-magnet Ruby, played with soulful pluck by Marisa Tomei. In witty, quick-cut flashbacks, we meet her track record, the actor, the narcissist, the Frenchman and the other assorted romantic flotsam that she took in, tried to nurture, and then tossed in self-defense.
An encounter, which may or may not be chance, is the start of Rubys latest romance. That would be Sam, whose gentleness is a turn-on, but whos got an interesting set of those quirks I was talking about. Hes terrified of dogs, even Chihuahuas send him into a panic attack. He doesnt know the difference between carnations and roses, and his eyes have a tendency to glaze over without warning, like hes in a trance. But as pal Gretchen (Nadia Dajani), puts it, as long as its not during sex, whats the problem? None really, until he tells Ruby that hes from the future and that hes traveled back 471 years specifically to meet her. Is he flattering her? Or is serious? Why else would the stories about the future and how he left it be so well thought out? And why, she asks her therapist, cant she dump him and make it stick?
Andersons trademark style is a polished sort of cinema verite. No jerky hand-held camera moves, but full of seemingly unstudied shots, with pans to capture the give and take of dialogue as well as close-ups that have the camera racing to catch up with the actors as they move. It makes for a casual immediacy that nicely complements the complexities of falling in love with someone who is probably Mr. Wrong. Anderson also includes sequences from Sams point of view, showing life going backwards in a rewind that, especially at the dinner table, can be unnerving.
Tomei is sweet, but its Vincent DOnofrio as Sam who makes it work. As he did in THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, he makes the stranger-in-a-strange-land thing irresistible. Hes sweet and shy, whether drinking in a divine aroma or warily eyeing a dog at a family dinner, but there is a palpable edginess, too, that is endearing and just a little scary.
HAPPY ACCIDENTS is a slight but pleasant little comedy with sharp humor that never devolves into cynicism. If the story wanders a bit with more than we need to know but Rubys parents, it is still fun and smart, plus it delivers an ending that cleverly ties everything up with a shiny and wildly romantic bow.