Director: Stephen Greene
Starring: Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal
It was like a perfect storm: Netflix's spotty history with recommendations, a film famously disavowed by its director and then brutalized by critics, and a prediction that I would give this "recommendation" a low rating. I couldn't resist, I had to watch Nailed!, which remains the Canadian title of David O. Russell's orphaned political comedy, though elsewhere it is known as Accidental Love, a title that is approximately a million times too generic for something that is this much of an oddity. Was it worth the time? Not really. Nailed! is a bad movie, but it's not the epic boondoggle its storied production and post-production history would suggest. To be honest, it's kind of dull.
Nailed! began principal photography back in mid-2008, at which time the subject of the US' lack of universal health care was topical, but which viewed in 2015 makes the film seem almost like a period piece. Weirdly, as the film opens it almost gives the impression of having anticipated being viewed this way, as its first sequence takes place at the 1950's nostalgia diner where its protagonist, Alice (Jessica Biel), works and wows the crowd as she delivers food orders to cars while on roller skates. Alice is a hit with customers and is seemingly living a charmed life which includes her police officer boyfriend Scott (James Marsden) and her doting parents Helen and Bob (Beverly D'Angelo and Steve Boles). Things go awry, however, when Scott takes Alice out to a restaurant to propose and insists on staying at the table where they're seated because it's the "best table," even though on that particular evening it is also the table underneath the spot where some repair work is being done. While at first this is merely an inconvenience, it quickly escalates to near tragedy when the worker loses his footing on the ladder and accidentally shoots Alice in the head with a nail gun.
Alice is rushed to the hospital, however, when it is discovered that she doesn't have insurance to cover the cost of surgery to remove the nail, she's turned away. Horrified at the thought that she will have to live the rest of her life with a nail lodged in her brain, its placement causing her to have wild and violent mood swings and to lose all sexual inhibition, Alice decides to appeal to the young Congressman in her district, Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal), in the hope that he can use the clout she imagines he has to enact change at a legislative level in order to help her and the friends she's made who are similarly suffering from health care issues that they can't afford to fix. However, Howard is a very small cog in a very large machine and is more or less at the mercy of more senior members of Congress such as Pam Hendrickson (Catherine Keener), whose only interest is in getting funding to build a base on the moon. Through Howard, Alice reluctantly gets roped into becoming a spokesperson for the moon base, and then realizes how thoroughly she's being used and goes on the offensive, enlists the Girl Scouts in her crusade, and tries to force Congress into action.
Nailed! is famous for being David O. Russell's unfinished film, which is and isn't an accurate description of what this is. In terms of having a complete story that has a beginning, middle, and end, Nailed! is technically "finished;" it has a whole story, even if it's a story that takes some odd digressions and ultimately doesn't really work. At the same time, it is also "unfinished" in that it lacks the polish and feel of having had a consistent voice behind it. If nothing else, a film like Nailed! is a demonstration of what a director brings to the post-production process through its absence of same. There's a flatness to the film and an inability to hit the beats in any given scene, even though they have the same manic quality of Russell's work, which suggests that at least part of the problem with this final product is that the captain stopped being at the helm before it reached its final destination. Now, having said that, I don't know that Nailed! would have actually ended up being a good film if Russell had seen it through to the end, but it might have been a more noble failure. It might, at least, have been more consistent and felt like it had some sort of point to it.
Pitched at the right level of wacky energy, Nailed! might have worked, but I kind of doubt it. It's supposed to be satire (I think?), but none of the characters are believably human, and all of the actors seem like they're completely at sea. It takes skill to draw a bad performance out of Catherine Keener, but she gives one here as the manipulative, murderous, moon base-obsessed Congresswoman, though that merely puts her on par with everyone else. Gyllenhaal is pretty bad as the powerless politician (who outwardly projects that powerlessness to such a degree that you would have to have a nail in your head to think he's capable of accomplishing anything), and Biel really doesn't have the presence to hold down the center of this kind of story. Weirdly, while everyone else is leaning too far into the silliness to make their characters seem like they have any basis in reality at all, Biel takes things far too seriously for the light tone that the film is going for. In the end, Nailed! is definitely a mess, but it's one that's not even remotely as interesting as it's "making of" story.