In a small American town still living in the shadow of a terrible coal mine accident, the disappearance of a teenage boy draws together a surviving miner, the lonely wife of a mine executive, and a local boy in a web of secrets.
As far as downbeat suburban dramas go, Little Accidents feels particularly grim. Writer/director Sara Colangelo’s film, derived from her own 2010 short, is set in the wake of a tragic mining collapse in a sleepy American town, which has seen an inquiry launched to determine whether it was an accident or foul play – placing the one reluctant survivor, Amus, right at the centre of both the investigation and a town tearing itself apart with secrets and lies. Meanwhile, following an altercation in the woods fuelled by illicit alcohol, a teenager goes missing, leading a town to launch missing persons search, a mother to grieve, and young Owen to hide the truth and fight a ferocious battle with his inner demons.
Which leads us to the most interesting aspect of the entire film. Played by one Jacob Lofland, who utterly excelled along side Tye Sheridan and Matthew McConaughey in Jeff Nichols’ Mud, Owen is a refreshingly engrossing character; no doubt thanks to Lofland’s complex performance, but also the fact that the character is so three-dimensional, written in such a way as to be sympathetic yet totally conflicting. There’s so much clashing and rattling through his adolescent head as he struggles to keep a dark secret, crossing paths with those who hurt the most on his way to possible redemption. If Inside Out had centred on this kid rather than Riley moving to a new school, suffice it to say, we would have been crying for a whole different reason.
The comparison to Jeff Nichols’ bucolic and melancholic drama is no accident; the two share an obvious palette. The twilight visuals and existential themes, where our characters bear enormous emotional burdens while reflecting on their places within society, are one in the same; Lofland’s presence merely a black and white flag between the two. If you were a fan (and why shouldn’t you be), Little Accidents will have things to offer. The mere backdrop is seductive enough to leave the viewer happy at least on a visual level.
Yet where the film fails to work quite so well is in the marriage of the two ostensible plot lines. It can’t quite decide whether it wants to focus more on the one thing or the other; the industrial inquiry story or the missing persons aspect, and it ends up leaving us, the viewer, fumbling somewhere in between. There’s a striking amount of potential lacing every frame and dressing every character, but it needs more strength to its convictions if it’s to be as compelling as it so often threatens. You feel it needs a Jeff Nichols just to tighten up the knots and oil the creaks. To give it a more solid direction.
With glum faces the cast is good enough to largely (and temporarily) pave over any such missteps – but they are still there. If compared with other, more accomplished works in the genre like the aforementioned Mud, the brilliant Short Term 12, or even the slightly more light-hearted The Kings Of Summer, Little Accidents begins to pale rather quickly; its lasting impression proving sadly weak and unsatisfying. It’s interesting in measures, but unfocussed, and brutally cheerless.
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Director: Sara Coangelo; Screenwriter: Sara Colangelo; Starring: Elizabeth Banks, Jacob Lofland, Boyd Holbrook, Josh Lucas; Running time: 103 minutes; Certification: 15