[16 November 2009]
Associate Features Editor
Some actors seem to work best with certain directors. Mifune and Kurosawa. De Niro and Scorsese. Crowe and Scott. These relationships can be found throughout film history and are usually simply explained as great working relationships similar to successful business partners or dynamic athletic duos.
However, most of these collaborations aren’t limiting in the sense that the two only work well when the other is present. For instance, De Niro appeared in many great films not helmed by his pal Marty. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Uma Thurman, whose success seems completely reliant on the presence of her sage, Quentin Tarantino.
Now I’m not one to continuously sing the praises of the most over-publicized director in Hollywood (at least via the world wide web), but most of Tarantino’s best films (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill 1 & 2) happen to feature Uma Thurman in substantial roles. Her character in the 1994 classic helps create one of the most cringe-inducing scenes ever put to film (“I gotta stab her three times?”). Then Thurman and Tarantino manage to craft a woman simultaneously hell-bent on revenge and still chock full of sympathy, charm, and, most astonishingly of all, love. After three movies, it’s perfectly clear the pair should work together more often, if not always.
This is made even more evident when examining Thurman’s work outside the Tarantino umbrella. Though her good work mostly makes up for the bad, there certainly are some stinkers on her resume: The Avengers, Paycheck, The Producers, and arguably her career low point, Batman and Robin make up a good chunk of Thurman’s work. “Why ‘arguably’?” you ask. “How could anyone hold the fourth entry in the Batman franchise above any movie at all?” I too thought it impossible, that is, until I saw The Accidental Husband.
The latest wannabe romantic comedy has too little of both ingredients to be considered part of such an esteemed genre. Thurman stars as Dr. Emma Lloyd, a radio talk-show host who uses nonsensical witticisms to try to convey love-life advice to her unbelievably gullible listeners. Within the first few minutes of the movie, Lloyd tells a woman to break-off her engagement after listening to only a few choice words about how the groom-to-be isn’t attentive enough. Said groom (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is, of course, listening (what man wouldn’t tune in to hear women trash them for hours on end?) and immediately blames the love doctor for ruining his relationship.
So what does he do? He marries Dr. Lloyd, of course. With the help of a computer savvy Indian adolescent (count the clichés crammed into that character), Patrick hacks into a government website and arranges it so the two will appear married for all legal purposes. Why? Well, it’s somewhat unclear. At first, it seems he hopes Lloyd’s fiancé will leave her upon discovery of her previous marriage. But Richard (Colin Firth) never considers this and takes Emma’s word for it that there must be some error in the system.
Logistics aside, this is already a clunky premise from which true love is supposed to bud. While it’s a common trope of the genre to begin the film with the two future lovebirds at each other’s throats, the filmmakers behind The Accidental Husband choose to keep one character completely oblivious to the other’s disdain. Or do they?
Once Emma finds Patrick, he appears more afraid of her than angry. He cowers behind a pool table before buying her shots and (gasp!) letting her sleep in his bed when she passes out. Her fiancé even calls her phone while she’s asleep and instead of answering to infuriate the sure-to-be suspicious groom, Patrick merely ignores the call and shuffles off to sleep on the couch. The scene is actually a perfect microcosm of the film: it makes little sense, carries no charm, and is completely devoid of conflict.
The rest of the completely listless film rolls out as predictably as can be when no real sense of loss or gain is introduced. Emma struggles with her decision to play it safe with the gentlemanly, loving Richard or take a risk on real love with her inexplicable new crush, Patrick. The screenplay, by two brand-new writers and one pseudo-experienced former TV writer, forces us through a few awkward situations (uncomfortable for the viewers and characters) before settling in for the cliché-ridden final act, but if anyone makes it to this point without distracting themselves with a more compelling activity (I chose to begin my background research early), I would be shocked.
It’s not so much the brain-numbing predictability of The Accidental Husband that makes it such a slog to get though, but the film’s refusal to even let the audience enjoy the actors’ natural talents. Thurman and Firth’s respective track records prove their charms in spite of the drivel they are forced to spout here, and Morgan, whose only significant roles come courtesy of Grey’s Anatomy and Watchmen, actually shows faint glimmers of promise as a slightly perverse teddy bear type.
But director Griffin Dunne is so focused on producing a 90-minute feature, everything feels like it’s on fast forward. The scenes are rushed. The lines are spat out in rapid-fire succession. Even the establishing shots are spinning wildly out of control or eliminated altogether.
During the DVD’s solo special feature, a (surprise!) boring making of featurette entitled “Matters of the Heart”, the actors say they loved working with Dunne because he’s a former actor and really understands how best to communicate with them in order to bring out exactly what he wants on screen. Well, either they’re lying or Dunne wanted to pin his actors into corners they can’t over-emote their way out of despite 90-minutes of effort.
The best news surrounding this DVD release actually has nothing to do with the film itself. Instead, it comes in the form of pure speculation on my part. After reading Thurman’s enthusiastic reaction to working with Tarantino again on a third installment of Kill Bill, I can only hope her gung-ho attitude has something to do with distancing herself from films like this one. In fact, the only way I might forgive Thurman for drawing in fans to such a falsely romantic schlock-fest is if she were to make another movie on par with her work with Tarantino. That’s me, though – always looking on the bright side.