One of the most difficult digital effects is to take an actor’s performance and remove the years from his appearance – remember the rubbery, slightly unsettling appearance of Jeff Bridges’ face in the evil half of his twin TRON: Legacy performances in 2010? But one look at the just released trailer for Accidental Love shows how far the technicians have progressed: in the satiric comedy 34-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal looks to be the picture of boyish enthusiasm. He glows without a trace of Nightcrawler’s malignant Louis Bloom.
The secret isn’t processing power or proprietary software, it’s time. Accidental Love, or Politics of Love, or Nailed, as it’s been titled at various points, was shot seven years ago. And if you’re wondering how a film starring Gyllenhaal and other marketable Hollywood names such as Jessica Biel, James Marsden, and Catherine Keener could go into production in 2008 and only be released in 2015, there’s also the small matter of the credited co-writer and director Stephen Greene. That’s actually a pseudonym for acclaimed filmmaker David O. Russell.
The story of Nailed’s long and unlikely journey may one day make for a book both telling and funny, which would make it the perfect source material for a Russell adaptation, per his recent successes Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, if only he hadn’t already washed his hands of the whole experience.
Adapted from the blackly comic political novel Sammy’s Hill, written by Kristin Gore, the daughter of former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, Nailed was the story of Alice Eckle (Biel), a small town waitress with a police officer boyfriend (Marsden) whose life changes when she gets a nail lodged in her head. Without health insurance she can’t get the nail removed, even as her condition results in erratic behaviour, so Alice heads for Washington D.C., where she starts a rather intimate lobbying campaign with her local congressman (Gyllenhaal).
It’s a film about the surreal human cost of a system that doesn’t work, which also happens to describe the production itself. Everyone agrees that the film’s production in South Carolina and then post-production was shut down multiple times due to the crew not getting paid, but no-one can agree how any times that disastrous event occurred. In 2012 producer Lucy Wick (Jarhead, Lawless) claimed the number was 14.
The problem was questionable independent financing, reportedly stemming from producer David Bergstein of Capitol Films. In 2008 Russell wasn’t the in-demand filmmaker he is now – 2004’s I Heart Huckabees had been a commercial failure, and he was working outside the established Hollywood system. Russell, who also had actor James Caan quit the production because he didn’t like his character’s death scene, was up against it throughout production, and formally quit the movie and removed his name in 2010, the same year he got his career rolling again with The Fighter.
As the rights to the film moved around with unpaid debt there were various negotiations, but it was believed Nailed couldn’t be released because the titular scene – where Biel’s character gets a nail gun accidentally shot into her cranium – was the last one scheduled and never occurred. Whether through contractually obligated reshoots, or digital effects, there’s a version of that sequence in the trailer, and the finished – in some form – Accidental Love is getting an American release in theatres and on video on demand next month. An Australian release, whether in cinemas or straight to DVD, should follow.
“That was like, ‘How can it get much lower than getting divorced, having to put your kid in a special boarding school at a young age, and being broke and not knowing how to make a movie?’ Well, it can get worse. You can make a movie that doesn’t get completed because of mysterious financing,” Russell (pictured below) told Collider last year. “Jessica Biel was terrific in the picture, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Catherine Keener, and Tracy Morgan was hysterical in it. And then, it didn’t get finished. It got shut down nine times, which is an existential Kafka-esque experience, in itself.”
Biel, who has had to watch contemporaries such as Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams enjoy critical acclaim and Academy Awards recognition under Russell’s subsequent direction, struck a more hopeful note following the production’s collapse.
"That was definitely an experience, something I could not say no to. I am a huge David O. Russell fan. It’s just heartbreaking that so many people put so much work into this particular project only to have it sit there, unfinished. But it’s one of those things where we had no idea it would have happened,” the actress said in 2009.
“If I’d had an idea that it might happen, would I still have done it? I don’t know. Probably. I had an incredible experience with David and the rest of the cast. It made me a better actor. For all that, I’m devastated that it’s not finished and who knows when it will be and will come out. I still have my fingers crossed that something good will come of it.”
She should soon have her answer.