In 1974, the Conway family are at a drive-in theater in Connecticut watching The Three Stooges. The parents are Gloria (Geena Davis), a foul-mouthed and strict mother who will always take responsibility over the family, Ray (Joel Tobeck), an easy going father, and siblings Linda, Gene, Larry (Harry Cook) and Billy (Harrison Gilbertson) who is an accident-prone child. In the meantime, the Conway's neighbor, Douglas "Doug" Post (Sebastian Gregory), whom Gloria hates and often calls him names because he is the one who causes problems that could be offensive towards the family, drives by on his bike and Gene leads him up to the top of the drive-in screen. Gene then proceeds to urinate out of the screen. While an infuriated Gloria trips as she approaches the screen, the police are dispatched to handle the situation as infuriated and confused guests honk at Gene and Doug. While driving back home, an argument over the incident causes their car to collide with a pick-up truck during the rainy night. Although Gloria, Ray, Billy, and Larry only suffer minor injuries, Linda is killed and Gene is severely injured with severe brain damage (that could be fatal in a matter of time) and is left paralyzed from the head down.
In 1982, eight years after the accident, Ray is divorced and there are more problems not only concerning about Doug, but also about Gene's severe condition as he could die in any day or any month. 15-year-old Billy is still friends with Doug even after the accident. One night, an argument occurs over a TV dinner with Larry, now a belligerent and profane alcoholic. Billy accidentally knocks the dinner and lands on him, burning his back. When Doug overhears whats going on, he intervenes and gets into a short scuffle with Larry as Billy blames his brother for the burn on his back. After streaking and robbing a convenience store, Billy and Doug are playing when he causes an almighty crash with a bowling ball and a moving car, actually killing Doug's father by accident. Just a few days after the incident, Larry's incessant harassment causes Billy to fight against his older brother, and when Gloria breaks up the scuffle and discovers a gauze on Billy's back (after Billy knocked the TV dinner and injured himself, and on the newspapers regarding the robbery that Billy was wearing the gauze), Larry immediately tells her that it was Billy and Doug who went streaking and stealing things as evidence, but is still taken away by Ray, who came to cause another argument with Gloria over their divorce. Because Billy has no way to hide any of the evidence, an incensed Gloria reprimands and admonishes him, restricting him from Doug permanently. Although she knows what Billy and Doug did, Gloria does not know what really happened at the car crash.
When Doug receives a mistaken note that his father committed suicide and that the insurance company does not pay for suicide, they decide that it is time to confess to the police of what really happened. When Billy tells this to Gloria, she describes him as a selfish son and she slaps him across the face in disbelief and breaks down in tears. As the police interrogate Billy and Doug, the family receive word that Gene had finally died. It is then revealed that when Doug attended Gene's funeral, Gloria had forgiven him for what happened. The movie ends when Billy takes the bowling ball that was found after the fatal accident and roles it down the sidewalk as Billy looks on.Geena Davis as Gloria Conway
Harrison Gilbertson as Billy Conway
Harry Cook as Larry Conway
Ivy Latimer as Linda Conway
Joel Tobeck as Ray Conway
Sebastian Gregory as Doug Post
Sarah Woods as Dottie Post
Erik Thomson as Bob
Rebecca Massey as Louise
Morgan Griffin as Katrina
American-born screenwriter Brian Carbee wrote Accidents Happen based on his childhood in 1980s Connecticut, changing his own name to "Billy Conway". He had previously performed in a one person show titled In Search of Mike, which director Andrew Lancaster saw and asked Carbee if he would adapt the show to a short film. Carbee subsequently wrote a novel which served as the basis for his Accidents Happen screenplay. He developed the screenplay through the prestigious Aurora Script Workshop in Sydney, where producer Anthony Anderson had worked and collaborated on his 2004 film Somersault. In 2004, the completed script was nominated for an Australian Inside Film Award for Best Unproduced Screenplay, but it took a further three years to gather finances for the project. Anderson, Carbee and Lancaster successfully applied for funding from Screen Australia on two occasions; they were granted A$18,000 in May 2003 to fund drafts of the script, and $50,000 in November 2007. In September 2005, Anderson traveled to New York City with three other Australian producers to meet with investors at No Borders Co-Production Market, a division of the Independent Feature Project Market in which filmmakers attempt to secure financing for their projects. The film was the first production from the Abacus Film Fund, co-founded by producer Heather Ogilvie and corporate advisers BG Capital Corporation. British production company Bankside Films of London also assisted in raising finances and is handling all international sales of the film. The filmmakers received a 40% rebate on all production costs from Screen Australia. Davis was the only American actor to be cast, in spite of the story's American setting; the rest of the cast is Australian, with feigned American accents.
Accidents Happen was originally intended to be filmed in Connecticut, where it is set, but production remained in Australia, where the script had been written, because finances were easier to raise than in the United States. Filming was slated to begin in April 2008 but was delayed until June. Lancaster said that he did "a huge amount of technical preparation" before filming began so that, on the set, he could focus his directing on the actors' performances since the cast was largely inexperienced. Principal photography commenced in early June with scenes shot on a built set at Sydney's Fox Studios. Most filming took place in and around Kuringgai, first on Gillian Parade in West Pymble for a week in late June and then Lincoln St, St Ives for 1–2 July. Lincoln St residents complained about possible disruptions to Ku-ring-gai Council, starting a petition to have production moved elsewhere, and threatening to play bagpipes and wave lights around during filming if it went on as planned. The council then offered a revised filming schedule, cutting filming down by two days and bringing each day's finishing time forward by an hour to 12.30 am, and the producers offered some residents a $500 payment to cover any inconveniences. Filming of the story's integral car crash scene was relocated to another street after the discord.
Select footage of Accidents Happen was screened to potential distributors at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and was shown at the American Film Market in November 2008. The final cut of the film had its world premiere on 23 April 2009 at the Tribeca Film Festival and was screened in June 2009 at the Sydney Film Festival. It was shown in October 2009 at the Branchage Jersey Film Festival, the Cinéma des Antipodes festival and the Sitges Film Festival.
Accidents Happen took $157,131 at the box office in Australia.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 56% of nine surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 5.5/10. Russell Edwards of Variety wrote, "John Irving-style mishaps and labored irony fail to maintain drama or coherence in Accidents Happen, an Australian-made, faux-American dysfunctional-family black comedy."