Accidents Happen Review

Geena Davis stars in Accidents Happen, an Australian-made black comedy released on DVD by Matchbox.

Black comedy is one of the trickiest types of film to get right, and unfortunately for Accidents Happen it’s not the exception to prove the rule. A third-person narrator establishes the scene from the outset as young Billy Conway watches his neighbour Mr Smolensky accidentally and fatally set himself alight at his barbecue. However, worse is to happen. On the way back from a drive-in cinema, the family has a car accident which kills Billy’s younger sister Linda and leaves his brother Gene in a permanent vegetative state. Eight years later (in 1982), the tragedy has pushed apart Billy’s parents Gloria (Geena Davis) and Ray (Joel Tobeck). Billy (now played by Harrison Gilbertson) uses jokes and pranks to help himself cope.

Brian Carbee’s script and Andrew Lancaster’s direction fail to maintain a constant tone, and often fall into bathos, with genuine tragedy counterpointed by simple accidents such as dropping a cake. You can see what they’re aiming at, but it doesn’t come off.

The film’s main asset is Geena Davis. Previously a victim of the Hollywood rule that roles dry up for women over forty or so, she had been best known as Stuart Little’s mother and for television roles such as the first female President of the USA in Commander in Chief. Given a decent big-screen part to play, she portrays one of the fiercest and most combative, let alone foul-mouthed, mothers you’re likely to see.

This, by the way, is an Australian-UK coproduction, filmed Down Under, but you may be mistaken for not noticing, as it is set in Connecticut and even the Aussies in the cast are playing Americans.

The Disc: After their decent release of another recent Australian film, Beautiful Kate, Matchbox’s presentation of Accidents Happen is disappointing. First the basics: it comprises one single-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only.

There’s plenty of evidence – including the trailers on this DVD – that Accidents Happen was shown in cinemas in Scope. However, the aspect ratio of this DVD transfer is 1.78:1, though it is anamorphically enhanced. The film was shot digitally, on the Panavision Genesis camera, and it would seem that the DVD transfer is the whole image, which was cropped for cinema showings. That doesn’t make it the intended aspect ratio, though. As for the transfer itself, flesh tones tend towards the reddish and shadow detail is limited in some scenes. More brightly-lit scenes come off better.

The soundtrack is Dolby Surround (Dolby Digital 2.0 played via Dolby ProLogic) and nowadays it’s a surprise to see a DVD of a new film without a 5.1 mix. The sound mix is basically front and centre, with little surround usage. There are no subtitles available for the hard-of-hearing.

Extras are similarly basic, beginning with the teaser trailer (1:01) and the fuller trailer (2:12) previously mentioned. Next up are two featurettes, “When Accidents Happen” (3:25) and “Glorious Gloria” (2:16). As you might guess from the short running times, these aren’t anything more than EPK fodder, with brief interview soundbites interspersed with clips from the film (as with the trailers, in 2.35:1 anamorphic) and a very brief snippet of on-set footage. The former talks about the film’s humour and life-affirming qualities; the latter concentrates on Geena Davis talking about her character.

Finally, there are a series of interviews, with Geena Davis, Harrison Gilbertson, Joel Tobeck, Andrew Lancaster (misspelled as “Lanacaster” on the menu), Anthony Anderson (producer) and Brian Carbee (writer), with a Play All option, totalling 8:07. These follow the usual format of a text question followed by the videoed answer, many of which also appear in the two featurettes.


Updated: Mar 10, 2011

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