When you think of romantic comedies, you don’t usually think of sci-fi movies.
But with Happy Accidents (IFC Films), writer and director Brad Anderson merges the two genres. The result is an eccentric but thoughtfully engaging and entertaining movie.
Marisa Tomei plays Ruby Weaver, a co-dependent telephone directory operator who seems to attract an endless array of wacky boyfriends. She vows to her band of jaded friends that she will stop dating dysfunctional men only destined for the “ex-files” – the shoebox where she and her friends place pictures of their old failed boyfriends – when she meets Sam (Vincent D’Onofrio), a nursing home van driver.
Sam is sweet, caring and totally enamored with Ruby, which enables her to look past some of his quirks – like his fear of small dogs, his strange, glassy-eyed staring spells and the fact that he has never heard of the U.N. But then Sam reveals he is a backtraveler from the year 2047.
Adhering to the advice of her friend, Gretchen (Nadia Dajani), Ruby decides to play along with Sam’s game. But Sam’s staring spells and morbid references to the future start to happen around other people, and Ruby concludes that she has had enough and tries to throw him out. That’s when Sam reveals the real reason he is here: he has traveled back from the future in order to save Ruby’s life.
The new dilemma for Ruby and for the audience is to decide if Sam really is telling the truth or suffers from a severe mental disorder. The problem – and actually the appeal of the movie – is that Sam’s stories are so colorful and his personality so openly delightful that you at once want to learn the truth and can’t stand to lose the world he has created.
The chemistry between Tomei and D’Onofrio is palpable. After portraying the terrifying serial killer in The Cell, D’Onfario’s tender, off-beat performance in Happy Accidents proves that he is a markedly versatile and gifted actor. Tomei (What Women Want) plays the soft, insecure Ruby with playful vulnerability, although her childish tantrums and needy indecisiveness become trying as the movie wears on.
Anderson (Session 9) uses the ingeniously crafted plot to capture the audience’s intrigue and hold it up until the final scene. Shot in warm, toned colors, Happy Accidents works like a jazz piece – rough as it cuts across dialogue and scenes, and smooth as it brings up old themes and pictures, each time adding a little more to the established melody.
Happy Accidents is both a commentary on the state of the world and where it is headed, and at the same time a sci-fi mystery and a romantic comedy about finding love and learning to trust. It teaches about love and science, and it explores our fate. It is not an easy task to make a compelling and genuine romance out of a sci-fi movie (or vice versa), but in Happy Accidents the two genres find an unlikely balance of emotion and mystery.