Make no mistake: “Accidental Love” is no horror film, although there are moments that may elicit groans of despair from fans of the director’s much lauded “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.”
Filmed under the working title “Nailed,” and based on a novel by former “Saturday Night Live” and “Futurama” writer Kristin Gore — the former vice president’s daughter — the film is a broad satire of health-care policy. It’s about a woman (Jessica Biel) who is shot in the head with a nail gun and then denied surgery because she is uninsured, and it features performances by Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Hader, Catherine Keener, James Marsden, Tracy Morgan and Paul Reubens. After sitting on the shelf, the unfinished footage was cobbled together by producer Kia Jam, who managed to find a distributor.
The finished product, finally available on demand and scheduled for a limited theatrical release later this month, is credited to director “Stephen Greene,” a pseudonym, and for good reason. It bears no resemblance whatsoever to anything by Russell, who negotiated an agreement with the Directors Guild of America to remove his name — if not every whiff of his prestige — from the credits.
The tale centers on Biel’s Alice, a Midwestern waitress whose condition causes her to lose sexual inhibition (and occasionally to speak Portuguese). After traveling to Washington, Alice embarks on an affair with Gyllenhaal’s corrupt congressman while lobbying for a bill that would provide medical coverage to people with catastrophic health issues. The other unsubtle poster children for her cause are a man (Morgan) with a distended rectum and a minister with a constant, painful erection (Kurt Fuller).
While such heavy-handed gags might work in cartoon or sketch-comedy form, they mostly fall flat here. Even the political humor, while sharper, comes across as silly. Keener, for instance, plays a congresswoman with a pet project to build a military base on the moon.
Although the acting isn’t bad, the film looks and sounds unpolished, with an intrusive, slapdash score and an over-reliance on weirdly tilted camera angles. They lend the film a psychological instability, rather than, as probably intended, a funhouse feel.
The curiosity factor here is not negligible, because of Russell’s original participation in the project and his talented cast (which once included James Caan, who walked off the set and was subsequently replaced by James Brolin as the House Speaker). Washington audiences may also get a kick out of watching even such a gross caricature as this.
But they’d better be prepared for a blunt instrument. As Marsden’s character remarks to Alice, his fiancee, about the romantic restaurant which unfortunately is undergoing renovations as they’re eating there: “The ambiance is a little . . . nail-gunny.” -- M.O.
PG-13. Contains crude language and sensuality. 100 minutes. Available through Amazon Instant, Google Play, Sony Entertainment Network, Vudu, and YouTube.
BITE SIZE and RESISTANCE
But before you tune out, turn away and reach for that next Chicken McNugget and extra-large Coke, there are a couple of films arriving on demand that shed new, unsettling light on how the economics of food is making us fatter, unhealthier and more vulnerable to sudden early death.
“Bite Size,” by Corbin Billings, in many ways takes up where last year’s “Fed Up” left off, profiling four teenagers as they battle obesity in Mississippi, Florida and California. While one attends a weight-loss boarding school (paid for by her parents cashing out their retirement funds), another joins a YMCA training program in exercise and nutrition. Meanwhile, in Mississippi, another youth joins the school football team his father played on, while another, under the tutelage of a caring mentor, signs up with a group of overweight girls whose goal is to put on a dance show at the end of the term.
Not surprisingly, there are setbacks, small victories and no small amount of tears in “Bite Size,” which focuses on the private efforts of kids and their counselors, coaches and parents without connecting their struggles to a food industry hooked on salt, high fructose corn syrup and other additives. Billings leaves it to viewers to contemplate how low-cost food has made obesity and diabetes overwhelming issues for poor communities, and how even middle-class families can’t get systemic support for weaning their children off the sugar that permeates their lives, even when they try to eat sensibly. When one of the subjects sees a doctor about her constant, bottomless feelings of hunger, she’s advised to eat bran muffins. It’s not until her father takes to the Internet that he discovers how sugar addiction can be triggered even by healthy-seeming watermelon.
As heartbreaking as “Bite Size” is, it’s even more depressing that, when it comes to the now- mandatory action steps it suggests during the end credits, most of the advice is personal rather than political. The lucid, superbly filmed “Resistance” is far more galvanizing, as it elucidates how the misuse of and overdependence on antibiotics by the medical and agricultural industries has resulted in drug-resistant bacteria that have become exponentially quicker and more lethal in recent years.
Directed by Michael Graziano, “Resistance” offers a lively primer in how antibiotics were discovered, and how they came to be seen as miracle drugs, having staved off injury-related infections during World War II and sexually transmitted diseases during Vietnam. Doctors, scientists and authors provide insightful expertise, but it’s the terrifying stories of real-life encounters with such super-bugs as MRSA that viewers won’t be able to shake.
Graziano presents a persuasive case that the profligate use of antibiotics — especially as fattening agents in high-volume meat production — will soon culminate in a collective medical crisis of terrifying proportions.
Graziano and some of the experts from “Resistance” will be on hand when the film screens later this month at the Environmental Film Festival. But it doesn’t hurt to catch an early peek now: The film is so revelatory that you’ll want to see it twice, first with an open mind, then with nothing but questions. -- A.H.