“Little Accidents” is a quiet little indie that is wholly engaging. This first feature film for writer/director Sara Colangelo shows the aftermath of a coal-mining accident that killed 10 workers in a small West Virginia town. Amos Jenkins (Boyd Holbrook) is the sole survivor of the fatal accident.
While he struggles with the impossible predicament of whether to tell the truth, Amos’s story intersects a la “Crash” or “Babel” with that of the Doyle family. Diane Doyle (Elizabeth Banks) is one of the three main characters. She is married to Bill (Josh Lucas), a successful executive in the mining company, and they have an entitled bully of a son, JT (Travis Trope).
In the chain reaction, the Doyle’s become intertwined with the Briggs family, which consists of widowed mother Kendra (Chloë Sevigny) and her two sons, teenage Owen (Jacob Lofland), the third main character, and his little brother with Down’s syndrome, James (Beau Wright).
The casting is this film’s strength. Holbrook (“Gone Girl”) is on his way to fame. Look for him in the 2015 Netflix crime series about Pablo Escobar, “Narcos,” and in the upcoming star-packed thriller “Run All Night” — whose cast includes Joel Kinnaman (“The Killing”), who Holbrook reminds me of.
Coleangelo granted this exclusive interview to TheBlot Magazine.
Sara Coleangelo: He is such a find. He is really fantastic. I was prepping to do the Sundance director’s lab in the summer of 2011, and the casting director said, “Look, you’ve got to meet this kid. He’s the real deal.” I met him over coffee in Manhattan and noticed right away that he’s such a nice-looking man. Immediately I thought, “I don’t know if he’s quite right for the part.” Then, when we sat down and started talking, he just had this incredible sensitivity that was perfect for Amos. He’s also from the coal-mining hills of Kentucky next to the West Virginia border, which made him understand the script in a palpable way. He said, “Look, I know this world. My dad has been a coal miner for 30 years. I can do this.”
Is any part of the movie autobiographical, for example, Diane Doyle’s guilt about being a privileged person around all of these coal miners? Did you grow up like that?
There are a ton of factories in my hometown. I’d always observed the social hierarchy and yeah, I was definitely upper middle class and saw both sides of the socioeconomics and politics. I think I felt some guilt around the issues of the haves and have-nots, but nothing in “Little Accidents” was a literal take on my life. The most immediate connection was the relationship between Owen and his brother. I have a brother with Down’s syndrome, so I wanted to show both the joys and the burdens of that for a teenager.
Amos seemed haunted by long-term problems. Did you create a backstory?
Yes, we came up with this whole thing where Amos had lost the emotional anchor of his mother. She died, so he was left with his dad who was really tough on him and hard to please, like Amos couldn’t do anything right. In some of the early scenes, his father is telling him not to talk to the union folks, to keep himself protected, to think about the other men and not tear the community apart. So, yes, he is this super weighted-down character. We also had him as a womanizer who did well with the ladies until his accident. He had to suddenly get used to not being able to walk well.
Diane came across as narcissistic. She frets about things that are less serious than the grief the townspeople are experiencing. Is that what you’d intended to convey?
Yes, in the original script there were a lot of scenes of Diane and her female friends, and there’s this insular world of materialism that kind of protects her and shields her from the rest of the community. We had to shave things down for length. She’s slightly unlikable, then there’s this arc where she is forced to open her eyes and look at the effects of her husband’s decisions. In the backstory, Bill Doyle would’ve gone to other cities for work and might’ve had affairs, but she wasn’t speaking up about the harder aspects of their marriage, and that causes the explosive moments in the film.
As a female director, have you come up against sexism in the movie biz?
With this film, I was blessed, but I do think it’s something that you can’t quite put a finger on when it happens. I do feel it sometimes, mostly in the case of money when you’re trying to get financing. I think women are trusted less. That’s where I’ve felt it, but my financiers on this project were fantastic, and I didn’t feel it with the crew or actors, but it’s out there, and I’ve felt it, especially in social situations.
Had you seen Jacob Lofland in “Mud” before casting him as Owen?
Yes, I was a big fan of that movie and all of Jeff Nichol’s stuff. When I saw “Mud,” this little lightbulb went on, and I thought, “This kid is really incredible as a sidekick and gives such levity to the film,” so I asked Jeff Nichols, “What was it like working with Jacob?” He said, “He’s wonderful. I totally encourage you to reach out to him.” So I did. Jacob had this perfect blend of not being a trained actor and not having any of the baggage but at the same time, he understood the discipline of a set and how a set works. It was the best of both worlds.
I really love the films of the late Seventies and early Eighties like “Silkwood” and “Five Easy Pieces” and even Altman’s earlier stuff like “Three Women.” I think that era is so amazing.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing a TV pilot set in the American West in the industrial world. It will have a female protagonist, so I’m pretty excited about that. I also have a sci-fi novel right now that I’m very interested in and working on getting the rights.
“Little Accidents” opens in select theaters Friday, Jan. 16 and is available online. Drama. Unrated. 104 minutes.