Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: The Accidental Husband

the accidental husband indexIt’s easy to forget that Colin Firth has awesome physical comedy chops. This Romantic Comedy is the right vehicle for him to support Uma Thurman as she showcases her own knack for comic timing.

Sometimes niche production houses go ‘off brand’. If you were to ask an accountant for advice to go ahead with it, you might not get the kind of support you’re hoping for. Imagine if you would do that to an investor? Just like what Bad Robot did for ‘Morning Glory’, Blumhouse (usually not known for comedies) took the risk when going ahead with the Griffin Dunne (yes, that guy who plays Nicky Pearson in ‘This Is Us’) directed film. Sadly, it wasn’t able to find the right audiences and instead picked up by those who have completely different viewing tastes. As a result, viewers who would enjoy this kind of film would likely be put off by the extremely low Metascore (14). On the bright side, IMDB seem to echo my view (6/10).

The Setup: Emma Lloyd (Uma Thurman) has a radio show popular enough to have warranted a book deal. Her brand of advice is: levelheadedness in relationships. This of course does not bode well when a call comes in from bride-to-be, Sofia (Justina Machado), concerned about her impending nuptials that weekend to someone she’s only known for five months. Patrick (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is an extrovert while fiancé Sofia is an introvert. I could see where the doubt could be coming from: maybe Patrick struggles to understand that his other half needs significant time for solitude because to him ‘recharging’ is just hanging out with his mates (playing pool or getting immensely involved in soccer game). Unfortunately, we don’t get much information about that and just find out that Sofia has broken it off. We get the clue that it has to do with Patrick’s temper and she isn’t surprised after witnessing him getting a red card after angrily contesting a charge from the referee during a soccer match. The permanence is confirmed when she doesn’t return Patrick’s call and still walks away even if he persists and approaches her in public.

The Inciting Incident: Emma finds out that she is already married. Looking to expel a bit of that anger from losing Sofia, Patrick takes up Ajay’s (Jeffrey Tedmori) offer to ‘prank’ Emma and list him as her husband. Clearly the firefighter isn’t thinking of the ramifications of this (which is a good demonstration of why we shouldn’t succumb to the temptation of retaliating when another person has wronged us — no matter how Anger convinces us that it’ll make us feel better in the end) and when it comes the time for Emma to apply for a marriage license with Richard (Colin Firth), she is told that she is already married and would have to get Patrick (as her listed husband) to sign annulment forms.

The Stakes: Happily ever after. Emma has found her life partner and isn’t going to let a glitch (though more like a human intentional one) get between her next chapter. Interestingly, this is also the stakes for firefighter Patrick, but of course, he isn’t looking for it with her and just needs to come to terms with his grief. I have a feeling that even if Sofia wasn’t able to get through to speak to Emma, it might be something else (at worse, a no-show at the wedding day itself) that compels her to break off things.

I think I was charmed by the character work done by the cast. Yes, it touches on well trodden tropes (like ‘drunk person accidentally hitting their head’ or ‘bystander getting accidentally sprayed by someone washing a vehicle’) and it’s more about getting a chance to glimpse the best version of Emma, Patrick, and Richard. When Patrick carries Emma on his shoulder all the way to his room, I found myself thinking of Emerald Fennell’s script for ‘Promising Young Woman’ (I have yet to see the film). Because I know what would happen next (as I’m rewatching the film for this piece) isn’t close to what ‘Self Confessed Nice Guy #1’ does to Cassie. I’m going to forgive Patrick for not answering Richard’s call, finding a way to bring Emma home, or making sure that she didn’t get close to intoxicated in the first place because he is partially blinded by his anger.

Though what has happened to Patrick has some overlap with Cassie, the circumstances are quite different. Not just in their responses (which are reflected by both film ratings: ‘M’ and ‘MA’) but on how the ‘event’ has affected their life. Some pundits would point out that Patrick marrying Sofia about five months of knowing her is just a sign that he knows that she is ‘The One’. The rest would probably shine a light on the impending bride instead: Sofia is within her rights to change her mind. The kind of relationship that doesn’t go the distance is when one person feels like it wasn’t their choice to make (even if it was something they were looking forward to the minute it happened).

Odd to think about it in this way, but, in a sense, the film Patrick comes from is representative of the kind of world Cassie would have wanted Nina to live in: the kind that a lone woman isn’t worried when in a pub with more than 20 men who are virtually strangers. Where anyone intoxicated (irrespective of gender), and therefore unable to give proper consent, is guided to both rehydrate and rest in a safe place. When Sofia tells Patrick that it is over, he does not try to chase her and accepts that it is time to let her go. Of course the downside is he misdirects his frustration towards another person (Emma) rather than finding ways to move on and possibly improve when he starts a new relationship. I know this is the kind of situation that doesn’t offer proper closure: Patrick getting a chance to amend his behaviour that Sofia was concerned about. Though it occurred to me that the scene might exist and just didn’t make it to the final cut.

As for the comedy, what the film excels at is it doesn’t force it. It relies on performances and considers it a bonus if comedy flows from that. Uma Thurman and Colin Firth showcase their impeccable ability for physical comedy which is aided by their (non-romantic) chemistry. Their dynamic works well contrasted to Jeffrey Dean Morgan being a pest in his own charming way. Plus, the farcical aspects contribute to it’s consistency. After looking at the plot points closely, I realised that farce is the blueprint of a majority of the scenes. From Emma continually mistaking a number of people to be Patrick until meeting him to Richard having to concede to play Emma’s brother until Greta (Isabella Rossellini) and Karl Bollenbecker (Keir Dullea) have been sufficiently impressed. There’s also the wrong assumption that has to do with Emma’s Dad, Wilder (and a correction that I appreciate that has to do with significant age-gaps).

Comedic Highlights:

  • Emma is tall
  • Hand noogies (for emergencies)
  • Emma and Richard bicker

What doesn’t become obvious until I took the time to have a closer look was the way Mimi Hare, Clare Naylor, and Bonnie Sikowitz tackles exposition. Act 1 is a good reference material on how to make use of those precious opening minutes. Emma’s introduction tells us all what we need to know while letting the plot hop from one point (she has a radio show) to another (her brand is flying high with New York Magazine reviewing her upcoming book). Of course there’s getting us clued in on Richard’s penchant for turning to food when stressed and paid off as Emma tells him about her plan to impress Greta and Karl.

I think the biggest thing that bothered me (more of a #TimesUp issue rather than #MeToo) would be Patrick’s use of his authority (as a firefighter). We see it first when he tries to resume contact with Sofia then later when he tries to get access to Emma’s floor by showing his badge to lobby security. The third instance is when he clears a lift. But I’ll defer to the specialists whether he crossed over the line of consent. I know it’s probably not as problematic as a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent asking an individual going through the security queue for her contact number.

As for missed opportunities, I would have appreciated a nod to why Patrick and Sofia wouldn’t have worked. Maybe even what changed with Patrick as he comes to terms with their breakup. I thought it was interesting that neither Deep (Ajay Naidu), Ajay, Sunny (Sarita Choudhury), and Naniji (Yolande Bavan) does not mention her when he goes off and tries to prolong his ‘glitch marriage’ to Emma. It would be interesting to find out if his being open to commitment is a strength or an issue he still needs to work on. Because if he consistently fails to see his past partners as who they are (and not just as individuals for him to project his needs to), being unsure makes little sense. Though he could be a ‘reformed Ben‘ and has been able to learn to not look for perfection but rather long-term compatibility.

It’s rare that I end up wanting to watch a film when it doesn’t include captions. Seems like more are realising how much it could have helped, so I have no idea what to do with my Blu-Ray copy (I was surprised too that it didn’t include captions) since the dialogue is one of the strengths of this production. Just like ‘Tenet‘ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘, the lack of captions (or the availability of the script to those opting to watch it at the cinema) limit a viewer’s enjoyment of the film. Now I wonder if those negative comments about the film’s humour would be different if they had captions on (or waited until they were able to see the film with subtitles).

If Uma Thurman’s other projects haven’t appealed to you (particularly those that don’t make use of her comedic sensibilities), then this might be the right fit. I know it’s a challenge to overlook the subpar cover art (IMDB has the best one I think — so maybe the film’s marketing team had a chance on making it appeal to the right audiences), but if you’ve just purged titles from your current collection (due to outgrowing them — or letting them live somewhere else), this might be something new to delight your guests. Maybe more those from Generation X rather than your 15-year-old nephew.

Leigh Lim.
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