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Australia/United Kingdom 2009
Directed by
Andrew Lancaster
92 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Emma Flanagan
3.5 stars

Accidents Happen

Synopsis: Everyone has accidents, but the Conway family seems to have a knack for attracting them. Young Billy (Harrison Gilbertson) starts the ball of bad fate rolling by witnessing his neighbour catching fire from his barbeque. Later, Billy is the unwitting cause of a tragic car accident ... or two. The Conways fall apart as a family; father Ray (Joel Tobeck) leaves for another woman, older brother Larry (Harry Cook) starts drinking, while mother Gloria (Geena Davis) tries to keep herself sane through bingo. Hovering over all of their lives is the presence of Billy and Larry’s brother, who lies in a persistent vegetative state in a nursing home.

There are plenty of films which deal with a coming of age, but Accidents Happen does it with a big fat dose of black humour. Screenwriter Brian Carbee, originally from Connecticut, USA and now living in Sydney, based the story on his childhood experiences.

Accidents Happen is Andrew Lancaster’s directorial debut and it’s an impressive one. The film was shot in Sydney, at both Fox Studios and various locations and Lancaster has managed to make Sydney look convincingly 1980s Connecticut, at least to my non-American eyes. The director has also assembled a very good cast who, with the obvious exception of Davis, are mostly Australians but who hold up well in the accent department.

The foundation of any good film is the story and Carbee’s tale of a teenager trying to make sense of the world around him rings true. Billy’s male role-models are not in good shape either physically or emotionally, and his mother, the strongest character in the family, lashes out verbally at anyone within hearing distance, taking out her frustrations randomly, apparently oblivious to the effect of her behaviour on others. Gilbertson is well-cast as the teenager trying to do the right thing but at a loss as to how to go about it. When he starts spending time with neighbour Doug Post (Sebastian Gregory), they start getting up to all kinds of trouble, some of which is hilarious, some of which ends up badly.

Accidents Happen is not a perfect film; there are several scene transitions which are obvious, and why, oh why did Gloria decide that a potential suitor Bob (Erik Thomson) was a dud? He looked pretty damned good to me! There’s also too much voice-over at the start of the film, but Anderson has interwoven it with delightful music, which sets well the tone for the rest of the piece, which is mostly whacky, a great choice which balances the tragic elements.

The best part of Accidents Happen is Geena Davis. She is utterly convincing as the woman who effectively heads the family whose members all carry the burden of guilt associated with the mishaps endured. Davis plays superbly the role of a woman who is at one moment tough, the next vulnerable, and always desperate to make things right, if only she knew how.




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