While at its core a romantic comedy, Brad Anderson’s “Happy Accidents” defies conventional categorization, and that’s undoubtedly the reason why it’s taken so long to make its way to screens (shot and set in 1999, the film fell off the radar after premiering at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival). That very unconventional quality also what makes the film so well worth seeking out.
And seeking out is what it’ll take to find “Happy Accidents,” for in keeping with its low-budget indie roots, the film is appearing only in a handful of arthouses–a shame, since this is as commercial a romantic comedy as mainstream Hollywood has put out all year, not to mention an even more satisfying one. Marisa Tomei has her first worthy role in years as Ruby Weaver, a hopelessly romantic single in New York City with an unfortunate knack for hooking up with guys with problem. One day at the park she meets Sam Deed (Vincent D’Onofrio), and not only is the attraction instantaneous, it looks like he could be the perfect, normal guy she’d always wanted. Alas, bliss is short-lived when Sam drops the whopper to end all whoppers: he claims that he is originally from Dubuque, Iowa… in the year 2470.
That Ruby’s reluctant decision to hang on to Sam is completely believable owes a lot to D’Onofrio’s performance. He delivers the increasingly convoluted back story with the right balance of wry humor and earnestness that keeps the audience continually off-balance as to whether Sam is telling the truth or downright insane. D’Onofrio is also so naturally warm a performer that one cares for the character regardless of his mental state, and he strikes quirky but no less potent sparks with the ideally cast Tomei, who nails both Ruby’s comic neuroses and genuine, soul-deep romantic yearning. Unlike Anderson’s previous comic meditation on romantic fate, “Next Stop Wonderland,” one is given convincing reasons why these two could, indeed, be destined to be together, as Sam often insists.
That idea of balance is the key to the success of “Happy Accidents.” Anderson strikes the right note in the humor, relying on a subtler, more natural, situation- and personality-driven comedy than broad, buffoonish physical gags. Similarly modulated are the sci-fi touches; Sam’s stories of “the future” are outlandish but follow a certain plausible logic that could very well account for their truth. Most impressive about “Happy Accidents” is how Anderson is able to make the two seemingly incompatible genres of sci-fi and romantic comedy mesh into a seamless whole that remains completely convincing even at its most disbelief-tempting.