The David O. Russell Film You Were Never Supposed to See
A David O. Russell movie is typically a major Hollywood event. His past three films, in addition to being box office hits, earned a combined 25 Oscar nominations and three wins, including Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. But a movie named Accidental Love that Russell directed seven years ago is finally being released on VOD on Feb. 10 and will have a limited theatrical release in March. It’s also arriving without Russell’s name. In its place? Some director named Stephen Greene—who doesn’t exist.
Back in 2008, Russell was still the named director and the film was known as Nailed, a political satire about health care that was loosely based on Sammy’s Hill, a 2004 novel by Kristin Gore. (Yep, Al’s daughter.) Jessica Biel signed on as a small-town waitress who goes to Washington, D.C., to lobby for health insurance so she can afford to get a nail removed from her head. With a then-timely election-year topic and a star-studded cast that included Jake Gyllenhaal, Catherine Keener, and James Marsden, Nailed was one of that year’s most promising projects. Russell needed it to succeed after his reputation had been tarnished by I ♥ Huckabees, a box office disappointment better known for the viral video that captured him spewing venom at Lily Tomlin. But Nailed descended into chaos, and shooting halted on the first day because of financing issues. Russell and producers Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher had partnered with Capitol Films, a production company led by Hollywood newcomer David Bergstein that promised the trio a reported $26 million budget. It proved less than reliable: Nailed shut down at least eight times during production for the nonpayment of the cast and crew.
Bergstein, who declined to comment for this story, blamed the 2008 financial collapse, but the filmmakers believed they were being intentionally squeezed. In the push and pull for control, producers held the film negatives hostage and postponed a crucial nail-gun scene—when the nail gets planted in Biel’s head—until the last day of shooting in an effort to maintain some leverage against Capitol’s perceived resolve to release an unpolished film. When one of the unions pulled the plug for good, the sequence had still not been shot. The film was left incomplete.
Capitol had even bigger problems, and ultimately declared bankruptcy in 2010. Russell, who can’t comment on the film as part of the agreement with the Directors Guild of America to remove his name, told Collider last year that Nailed had been “an existential Kafka-esque experience.”
An experience that continues. In late 2014, indie distributor Alchemy, formerly known as Millennium, acquired a version of the film for an undisclosed sum. Now retitled, it had been pieced together by producer Kia Jam, a former Capitol exec. “People are expecting to see a broken film, and it’s not,” says Jam, who relied on some digital magic to create the pivotal missing scene. “We tried very much to be respectful of the creative forces behind it.”
While Russell negotiated his name off the flick, the cast is stuck with their faces selling a rudderless seven-year-old project that skimped on postproduction. (EW has seen the film, and though it does have a beginning, middle, and end, it screens like an unfinished work—in both senses of the word.) “They signed up for a David O. Russell movie and a Kristin Gore script. I mean, you can’t be classier,” says a source who worked on the production. “They ended up in a David Bergstein movie, which, in a million years, they would’ve never said yes to.” In other words, they got nailed.