The heart--or hearts, in this case--belong to Marisa Tomei's loveburned Ruby and Vincent D'Onofrio's oddball Sam. They meet on a park bench and, after some unconventional courting by Sam, are soon living together. Sure, Sam has some strange behavioral tics and seems to be from further away than his professed hometown of Dubuque, Iowa, but Ruby can't deny he's the nicest guy she's dated after a succession of damaged losers. So she straps herself in and tries to enjoy the ride.
Weaned as we've been on countless movies and TV shows with fantastic premises, we don't think twice about believing a character who says he's from another planet or another time. After all, why bother to make the film if the guy's just a loony? How depressing is that? But if you loved someone in real life, someone you trusted and thought you knew well, and that person one day told you they were from over 400 years in the future, how would you react? The truth is, no matter how many movies you've seen or books you've read--or how big a sci-fi nut you are--you're going to get a sick feeling in your gut and know without a doubt that your loved one is, in fact, nuts. Or else on serious drugs. Because reality doesn't have the same rules as movies.
So the problem in telling this kind of story becomes, how do you confuse the audience's expectations and make them forget a lifetime of cinematic conditioning? The most effective way is to mix genres. Start with, say, a documentary or found-footage format, then introduce aliens (District 9). Or monsters (Cloverfield). Or superheroes (Chronicle). Or in the case of Happy Accidents, set the table for an urban indie romance, with all its ramshackle charm and wisecracking sidekicks, then serve up an eccentric love interest who claims to be a time traveler. Presto--reality bent.
Considering that science fiction isn't usually known for its psychological or emotional depth, the level of both in Happy Accidents--along with a pleasantly offbeat sense of humor--lends the film a realism and warmth that allow it to exist as solely a love story. But that also gives the potential fantasy element a necessary weight. Is Sam crazy? For both his sake and Ruby's, we truly hope he's not.
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