Review: It’s a Disaster (2012)

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Cast: David Cross, Julia Stiles, America Ferrera
Director: Todd Berger
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Notes: It’s a Disaster opens in limited release tomorrow, April 12th and is already available on demand. If you’ve already seen the film we’d love to hear your thoughts on it, or if you’re looking forward to seeing it this weekend, please tell us in the comments section below or in our new Next Projection Forums.

“Couples’ Brunch”. What a dreadful thing to call a gathering. It’s unsurprising, the ill-conceived name considered, that such an event should be quite so awkward as it unfolds in It’s a Disaster, Todd Berger’s lofty low-budget comedy, a film as ambitious as it is amusing. He gives us a setup of little note, gathering four couples in one of their homes for a friendly meal, before turning the screws with the announcement of a divorce and the revelation of an affair, and then flipping things entirely with the full-scale breakout of biological war downtown. In a sense, it almost lightens the mood.

Berger has concocted an ably amusing script here, restrained in its comic construction and sophisticated enough to avoid the obvious routes to laughs while still embracing the absurdity of its situation.

disaster3Primarily mined for comedy as an extreme extension of an already quite uncomfortable situation, the narrative is the sort from which much silliness spews, desperate quests to make contact with the outside world and frantic efforts to calm and quell tensions rising on the inside providing an ample supply of humorous scenarios. Berger has concocted an ably amusing script here, restrained in its comic construction and sophisticated enough to avoid the obvious routes to laughs while still embracing the absurdity of its situation. Its failing, at least its largest one, is its inability to resist the temptation to exert itself on a dramatic level, or rather its inability to do so with conviction. Berger entertains abundantly when allowing his characters’ contrasting levels of panic to provoke each other; his introduction of personal issues, each character given a clear goal to overcome, steers the film toward territory far more familiar than any it should traverse.

It’s David Cross and Julia Stiles who make the biggest impact among the cast; the closest thing the film has to stars, their relationship—this just their third date—is our entry point, with the former largely acting as audience surrogate. We glean the personalities of this group through Cross’ unbearably awkward first encounters, giving him the welcome chance to play the reactionary role of straight man. More often himself the font of comedy in Arrested Development and The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, here he relishes the chance to assume a different role and successfully amplifies the oddity of the surrounding characters with his bewildered reactions. Stiles, for her part, is perhaps the most human character: surrounded by friends all happily in love—at least seemingly so—she plays her character with a simple but efficiently empathic loneliness.

His performers are strong enough, and their work together complementary enough, to facilitate committal to the roles that greatly strengthens them beyond the page.

disaster4It’s clear that Berger and his cast have spent some time in developing these characters, each of them rounded individuals with a distinctive personality that forms a key piece to this narrative puzzle—and, if Berger is to be believed, a respective representation of one of the stages of grief. Cross aside, each of the male cast members played a role in Berger’s first feature, 2009’s The Scenesters, explaining their relative success over the women in fitting together as a comic ensemble. It’s the equal fault of the script, this imbalance, Berger less assured in his writing for female characters, though not to any major overall detriment. His performers are strong enough, and their work together complementary enough, to facilitate committal to the roles that greatly strengthens them beyond the page. Only in the case of Rachel Boston and Kevin M. Brennan, together playing “the stupid couple”, does the script’s shortcomings demand caricature, albeit comically so.

Burdened with more ambition than it ever really knows what to do with, It’s a Disaster has tempted no shortage of critics to capitalise on the easy evisceration its title freely offers. To do so is unfair: Berger may toss more balls in the air than he can hope to juggle, but the very act of doing so is precisely the sort of brash daring all too many films lack. For all his dramatic failings, he has taken a talented cast and shaped with them a witty—occasionally hilariously so—take on a scenario that, though hardly new, reaps much comic reward. A tonally tumultuous mess it may be, and much more often than it should. A disaster it certainly is not: disasters, after all, are never quite this fun.

[notification type=”star”]70/100 ~ GOOD. For all its dramatic failings, It’s a Disaster takes a talented cast and shapes with them a witty—occasionally hilariously so—take on a scenario that, though hardly new, reaps much comic reward.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.