Monday, May 6, 2013

The Cinema File #169: "It's A Disaster" Review

It's A Disaster, the new film written and directed by Todd Berger is the second small scale indie comedy released initially in 2012 centered around an impending apocalypse, at least that I've seen. After this and Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, I'm not sure why such a specific and specifically epic premise seems to lend itself so well to low budget introspective character pieces, and I'm not quite sure which one will be the Armageddon and which one will be the Deep Impact in terms of the final critical consensus. Even so, for my money, I'm glad we got another bite at this weird niche of an apple, because It's A Disaster accomplishes in the first ten minutes what Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World meandered around for two hours to find and never achieved.

It's A Disaster is the story of a group of friends meeting for their monthly couples' brunch, all to some degree self centered and hopelessly preoccupied with their own problems, who come to realize that a terrorist attack has made the air outside toxic, trapping them in the house with only a few hours left to live. Each couple reacts to the news of their impending deaths in different ways and the setting naturally provides a venue to explore each quirky character's psychology as they prepare for the end. My major criticism of Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World was that it seemed to go out of its way to tell the most boring and cliched story possible for its premise, and while there is arguably much less action in this film, certainly nothing close to the kind of explosive stuff you would expect for a movie promising death on a massive scale,  It's A Disaster is merely deceptively simple.

No one falls epically in love for the first time or has some great last minute adventure where they find out who they really are inside, and if you were to watch the movie with the sound off, you'd just see a bunch of people walking around the same house for an hour and a half, but even as the film takes a more subtle, lighthearted, and less schmaltzy take on the idea of imminent death for the entire cast, the characters are fleshed out so well in the first few minutes that you want to stay with them even as you know, even more so than most films, that this has to end badly. Without giving too much away, the ending is actually a bit more ambiguous than you might expect, which is maybe my one main issue with the movie as a whole, but over all its a minor complaint compared to how much I enjoyed the ride.

I saw this movie for the same reason most people probably will, because of David Cross and Julia Stiles, who play a new couple on their third date, still trying to feel each other out. I expected their relationship to be the central lynch pin of the story based on the trailer and how the movie started, but very quickly it becomes a solid ensemble piece where no one is given short shrift and everyone, mostly actors I've never seen before save Cross, Stiles, and America Ferrera, all pull their weight and turn in performances alternating between sad, funny, strange, and moving, never going too over the top at any end of that spectrum. Through these characters and their interweaving relationships the film juggles a very complicated, multi layered tone that is all at once darkly unsympathetic and at times genuinely heartfelt without ever tipping over into farce or melodrama. It comes off as a hard tight rope to walk that the writer/director and cast pull off almost pitch perfectly.

Though it probably sounds weird to say it in light of the effusive praise I just laid on so thick, through much of the film I was wondering why David Cross was cast in this. Its not that he's bad, far from it, but for a good 90% of the movie, he's basically just the straight man, and it seemed like a waste of his comedic potential of Chipmunkian proportions to bring in someone like Cross just to be awkward and embarrassed. That is, I felt this way until the last ten minutes or so, when the reason for his involvement becomes obvious and I couldn't think of anyone better for the role. The end itself is a bit jarring, even if it is foreshadowed in a very clever way in the beginning, and I'm still a bit conflicted on whether or not I liked it. Without spoiling too much, the film ends very abruptly, and even though I laughed out loud as soon as the reason for it registered, it does feel like a bit of a cop out. That being said, I can't really think of a better way to resolve the story, so I guess I can't complain.

If I haven't hammered the point home enough already, It's A Disaster is what Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World should have been. Its just as understated and low key, but its consistently funny and takes the time to establish interesting characters independent of the premise that you'd want to see in a movie even if it wasn't as high concept as this one. Even as the impending threat of death is treated with much more flippancy in this film, I still dreaded the inevitable here in a way that I didn't with the other film, because I wanted to keep enjoying these characters and their relationships. In short, this movie does everything right, such that if the idea intrigues you at all, you do not want to miss this one.
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