David O. Russell is the toast of Hollywood. The director of “The Fighter”, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle”, Russell can be relied upon to knock out one multi-Oscar-nominated hit after another, providing Robert De Niro with his only worthwhile recent roles in the process. But he wasn’t always quite so popular. Russell’s loopy philosophical comedy, “I Heart Huckabees”, opened to a bemused reception in 2004, and its follow-up, “Nailed”, was shut down nine times during production due to financial problems. Eventually, in 2010, Russell abandoned the unfinished film, leaving his fans to wonder, wistfully, if we had been denied a masterpiece.
Now we know. Five years on, “Nailed” has been completed without Russell’s involvement, retitled “Accidental Love”, and credited to a non-existent director, Stephen Greene. And it’s terrible. Really terrible. Watch-through-splayed-fingers terrible. What’s more, it looks as if it would have been terrible whether or not Russell had remained in charge.
Co-written by Al Gore’s daughter, Kristin Gore, the film is a strenuously zany political farce starring Jessica Biel (above, left) (which shows how long ago it was shot) as Alice, a rollerskating waitress from Indiana. Just as she gets engaged to her boyfriend, Scott (James Marsden), a clumsy carpenter jams a nail into her skull. And, because she doesn’t have health insurance, she can’t afford to have it removed. She decides to travel to Washington, DC, and lobby a well-meaning young congressman, Howard (Jake Gyllenhaal, above, right), but it won’t be an easy task. The nail in her brain has left her prone to outbursts of lust and fury—a condition which the film regularly forgets—and she sometimes starts speaking in Portuguese. Howard, meanwhile, is at the beck and call of the House whip (Catherine Keener), an ex-astronaut who is intent on building a military base on the Moon.
In its current, compromised form, “Accidental Love” is a disastrous pile-up of juvenile silliness, wilfully random plotting, and galumphing satire which would be too rudimentary for the least picky of student-run humour websites. You can see why Russell took his name off it. But let’s say that the best-case scenario had happened, and that he had realised his vision for “Nailed” in 2008. There is no doubt that it would have been a slicker, snappier film. But would we have been amused to hear Alice breaking into Portuguese, or Scott reeling off statistical percentages? Would we have chortled when we learnt that her two sidekicks had had accidents of their own—one penile and one anal? Would we have been delighted when the manic, goggle-eyed Howard danced around a campfire, dressed in a loincloth and smeared in mud? And would the film’s stance on subsidised health care have seemed refreshingly radical, never mind that Michael Moore’s “Sicko” tackled the subject in 2007? The answers, I’m pretty sure, are no, no, no and no. “Nailed” was always going to be a turkey.
On the other hand, it’s obvious that the people who cobbled together Russell’s footage have only made it worse. There’s no way that he would have allowed so many clumsy flashbacks and plot holes, and he certainly wouldn’t have used such grating music to assure us that we were watching a comedy. In “Accidental Love”, every supposedly funny line is accompanied by a flamenco guitar strum or a quacking trumpet or a celestial choir. One punchline is even underscored by the scratching sound of a stylus being yanked from a vinyl record—a technique which is a cliché in movie trailers, but which is unforgivable in an actual movie.
The only marginally interesting aspect of the film is its similarities to “Silver Linings Playbook”: a nymphomaniac heroine, a hyperactive hero, a token black comedian. It seems that “Nailed” served as Russell’s rehearsal for that far superior romantic comedy, and in that sense the former production’s financial difficulties did him a favour. As things turned out, he was able to disown the whole enterprise. He could move on to the hits that established him as a Hollywood A-lister, and he could wipe an unsightly blot from his gleaming CV. He should be grateful. If he had finished the film he started, his career might be as dead as a doornail.
Accidental Love is in British cinemas now