A couple of NYU Tisch grads — both of whom happen to be women — screened their first features last night, and you’ll have a chance to see them both in theaters next Friday.
We’ve already told you about Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behavior, which premiered at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theatre last night and opens Jan. 16 at IFC Center. While that film treads some familiar Brooklyn terrain — complete with jokes about Dali mustaches, Bushwick apartments that resemble refugee camps, and roommates who may or may not be witches — Little Accidents heads about as far away from hipster Brooklyn as you can imagine, to a mining town in West Virginia (not that Bushwick isn’t fascinated by Appalachia).
At last night’s screening at Nitehawk Cinema, writer and director Sara Coangelo introduced the film along with producers Anne Carey and Summer Shelton, who noted that the crew — including the cinematographer, editor, and casting agents — comprised a “very powerhouse female team” (“I’m not going to hesitate to throw that shit out there every once in a while,” she said to laughter). Christopher Columbus (Home Alone, etc.) was also a producer.
Coangelo said Little Accidents arose from a same-titled short that went to Sundance in 2010. “I was really interested in the idea of setting an accident or traumatic event in the past and seeing how it would affect the community a few months later,” she said, “and setting a drama in a one-company town and seeing how the conflict cut across lines of class, gender, politics, and socioeconomics within the town.”
In this case, the first “little accident” is a coal mining tragedy that killed 10 men, leaving lone survivor Amos Jenkins (winningly played by Boyd Holbrook) with a bum arm and a vexing dilemma: while the Teamsters want him to out his boss (played by Josh Lucas) for safety oversights, his father, a retired miner, pressures him to tow the company line lest he jeopardize his own job along with those of his colleagues. As Carey pointed out last night, this story alone would’ve kept a first-time filmmaker’s hands full, but Coangelo deftly weaves in another plot line: the son of one of the dead miners, Owen (played by charismatic child actor Jacob Loftland, of Mud) accidentally kills a classmate who happens to be the son of the coal company executive (Chloe Sevigny plays Owen’s mom). Later, a third subplot unfolds: Jenkins gets romantically entangled with the executive’s wife (played by Elizabeth Banks) as she simultaneously copes with the disappearance of her son and gradually realizes that the miners are right to vilify her husband.
Last night, Shelton, in her North Carolina accent, said she was excited to make a movie that was set outside of the usual milieu of Los Angeles and New York, and praised the “element of humanity in this world laced with all these bigger problems that were going on. A lot of people don’t depict small-town people that way.”
Indeed, the film’s characters are remarkably nuanced, never once coming off as bumpkins. New Yorkers may even find parallels between the fallout from this rural mining disaster — wherein union representatives vilify an authority figure and a town becomes divided — and the fallout from the police protests and killings here at home.
While some of the plot twists seem overly incestuous, excellent acting saves this from feeling like melodrama. Somehow, Little Accidents isn’t quite as gripping as similar blue-collar epics like The Place Beyond the Pines, but it’s worth seeing for the fine performances and the striking 35-mm cinematography of Rachel Morrison, who previously lensed Fruitville Station.
It opens at Cinema Village on Jan. 16.