Marisa and the Master of Space & Time
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There’s a toothless DVD commentary between Happy Accidents editor-writer-director Brad Anderson (Next Stop Wonderland, Transsiberian) and Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays Marisa’s love interest; though neither appears willing to explain or rationalize the film’s rather weird blend of humor and drama with science fiction. A woman pushing forty, burned too often in relationships, a codependent raised in an alcoholic household, Marisa’s Ruby Weaver meets and falls for D’Onofrio’s chatty Sam Deed in the park. Her attraction to this probable stalker and street crazy (he says he’s from the year 2470) is barely scrutinized in the script, but Sam is so blatantly off-putting to make us question Ruby’s sanity just for being with him. I credit D’Onofrio for a brilliant portrayal (few could make unlikeable so captivating), and Tomei occasionally shatters scenes from the gut, her blaring meltdowns over his jabbering eccentricity especially pungent. Props to Anderson for allowing the actors to flex, from the crazy rants about time travel to Tovah Feldshuh as Ruby’s mom, offering a perceptive obituary for the flame that’s died in her character’s marriage.
Perhaps too ambitious for its own good, Anderson’s script is riddled with holes. Why, for example, is the rough hewn Ruby reading Anaïs Nin — and pronounces her name correctly — when she’d obviously be more at home with a Harlequin romance? How is this woman of modest means able to afford weekly therapy sessions? (Holland Taylor, better known as Charlie and Alan’s mother on Two and a Half Men, plays the therapist.) How does one explain Ruby’s revelatory phone conversation with Sam’s present day father, whose very existence would negate Sam’s ‘birth’ some four hundred years in the future? And how can we overlook the parallels between Sam’s quest to save the woman, with the similar themes in Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) and Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys (1995)?
All these things considered, Happy Accidents is difficult to take literally, as a crossover genre piece. Regardless of the two leads’ excellent performances, its comedy, drama, romance and fantasy often fall short. Yet how does the picture manage to wander around in the mind days, if not weeks after viewing? Whether by design or not, Anderson has crafted a singular portrait of people trapped in a struggle to balance their emotions with common sense. He pays homage to the Marker film with freeze-frame zooms accompanied by narration, a subtle and welcome touch. Shooting at magic hour on the streets of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn just months shy of 9-11, DP Terry Stacey (In Her Shoes, Adventureland, TV’s Dexter) fuses the cold realities surrounding Ruby and Sam with the cozy warmth of an older New York, where a fuzzy Sunday afternoon glow so indigenous to that region transforms a ragtag scenario into an Impressionist odyssey. With the right frame of mind, you may even understand why Ruby would believe a man can travel through time.
“Dusty Happy End” by Dusty Trails, from Happy Accidents