18th Apr2013

‘It’s A Disaster’ Review

by Dan Clark

Stars: David Cross, Rachel Boston, Kevin M. Brennan, Julia Stiles, America Ferrera, Erinn Hayes, Jeff Grace, Blaise Miller, Rob McGillivray | Written and Directed by Todd Berger

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People have widely different ideas of how they would handle the end of the world.   Some would utilize it as an opportunity to reflect amongst their love ones, while others would let their freak flag fly in a party of reckless abandon. Facing the reality of worldwide destruction is a common theme found in film. Some, like Armageddon, use universal disaster as a showcase for the capabilities of human bravery. Others, like 2012’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, use it as a philosophical dissection into the fatality of life.  Todd Berger’s latest film It’s a Disaster takes an entirely different approach.

Similar to films like Another Earth or Safety Not Guaranteed, its high-concept is primarily a backdrop used frame more modest themes. It’s a Disaster theorizes, that our society is so absorbed into their own petty issues they are unable to contemplate the severity of life’s mortality.  Of course it keeps the laughs going through a dry sense of humor, which any fan of awkward comedy can appreciate. When it tries transition into more serious examinations of the human psyche it is a lot less effective. Still,  It’s a Disaster turned out to be an amusing exercise in limited storytelling.

In many ways the film is a modern update of My Dinner with Andre – with a more cynical attitude. Instead of being two friends enjoying the pleasures of casual conversation, it is a group of couples reluctantly participating in Sunday brunch. Unfortunately for them, things become complicated when they discover the world around them may be ending. Now isolated from the rest of the world, they are faced to deal with the ultimate conundrum.  Most audiences will be unfamiliar with the majority of the cast but actors like David Cross, Julia Stiles, and America Ferrera are certainly recognizable.

They make up a cast that feels like a middle-aged version of The Breakfast Club.  Each has a distinctive role they effortlessly fit into. Characters like the oblivious comic book geek, past-his-prime wannabe rock star, and sexually promiscuous wild-thing are some of the film’s more outlandish aspects. David Cross and Julia Stiles characters are far more subdued, then again their idiosyncratic foibles provide plenty of laughs. These characters are by no means likeable. Knowing they are confronting their eventual demise brings more pleasure than pity. However, by making them highly relatable you can get invested in their plight. They are hyper-realistic personalities you constantly come in contact with. You will be hard pressed not to feel uncomfortable with its high levels of shameful familiarity.  Most importantly, Berger uses that awareness to garner some worthwhile hilarity.

Berger, who both writes and directs the film, showed he has a bright future of ahead of him. He sets up the film nicely by laying the necessary groundwork to make the concept work. Characters preconceived notions are consistently used against them. Their inability to notice the ever present amount of sirens outside their doors clues you into their narrow-minded views. The itchy atmosphere of brunch grows to abhorrent levels—right as the opportunity for escape is yanked from under their feet.  It is the perfect punch-line to the film’s greatest joke. Irony and satirical wit are a huge part of what makes the comedy work.

The script captures today’s need for narcissistic personas, and how we are so consistently caught up in our own issues we actively avoid the real world. Social commentary of this sort is surely not innovative, yet it still feels fresh with this distinctive method.   When it enters darker territory the results are a lot more mixed. Rather than adding validly to its premise, it plays the death of two characters like a basic slapstick gag. Commentary without a strong bite is weightless in its effects. You can enjoy the jokes on their most rudimentary levels, but the subtext is lost in an empty cavern of commonality. It’s a Disaster isn’t void of dark comedy; it just never goes beyond straightforward sketch comedy levels.

Sketch comedy tends to falter most when it wraps up to its inevitable conclusion. Some of those issues are present here as well. Once things slow down to a more serious level it feels like the concept has run its course. While the characters are compelling, they are not deep enough to legitimize moments of emotional reflection. Watching a couple attempt to contemplate the destruction of their marriage delivers an abundant amount of humor, but as things get somber it loses its charm. Luckily, when it kicks into its final gear it regains its original momentum.  It culminates to a conclusion fitting its distinctive origin. Those who enjoy this unique brand of comedy will undoubtedly find a great deal to take away from this spin on the disaster genre.

It’s a Disaster is on limited release across the US now. No word on a UK release as yet.

***½ 3.5/5

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