Entertainment » Movies

It’s a Disaster

by Jake Mulligan
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Apr 12, 2013
Scene from "It’s a Disaster"
Scene from "It’s a Disaster"  (Source:Oscilloscope Laboratories / Vacationeer Productions)

I thought we'd be over our obsession with apocalyptic cinema by the time the last days of the Mayan Calendar rolled around, but here comes "It's A Disaster" to prove me wrong. It's yet another 'end of a relationship serves as the foreground to the end of the world' independent movie - between "4:44," "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World," and "Bellflower;" it's become a tired subgenre. (OK, I'm kind of cheating - it's not the end of the world here so much as World War III - but as far as this plot's concerned, there's no difference.)

Four couples get trapped at their brunch date when dirty bombs go off across the country; leaving them forced to spend the entire day together; a fate potentially worse than death. Sophomore director Todd Berger's characters are archetypes, undeserving even of the names he assigned them: we've got the crazy bisexual hippies (Rachel Boston and Kevin Brennan), the intellectual techies (America Ferrara as a chemistry teacher, Jeff Grace as her beau), and the bitter hosts, fresh from announcing their plans for divorce (Blaise Miller and Erinn Hayes).

David Cross and Julia Stiles star as the fourth couple, the audience surrogates, the 'normal' ones; probably on a second or third date - they're cautiously arguing when we meet them, about whether or not it's psychologically unfulfilling to shut off a song before it ends. So this entry in the genre is spiced up by a secondary influence: It's "The Exterminating Angel" if the houseguests knew the reason why they couldn't get up and leave.

Berger's film is a series of contradictions; it's intriguingly perceptive and painfully broad; simultaneously lived-in and closed-off; like a standard sitcom {"You want to save us from Armageddon? I don't know, bro, that movie's pretty awesome") that occasionally zings with the wit of classic screwball ("You found music on the radio?" "Yeah, but I believe it's automated." "No, that's actually Beethoven").

It even manages to capture the strained attempts at comfort and friendliness that always accompany such brunches; observing the way the individuals employ their friends to help them verbally one-up their spouses; the way that couples always seem to be sizing themselves up against their peers; and the way they all try to act so kindly while they do it. So it's a bit of a shame when our characters find out that someone - Koreans, aliens, whoever - have destroyed all forms of mass communication in America, and have dropped VX nerve gas into the air (a fifth couple, late to the brunch, lie near-dead on the front steps, with vultures circling overhead - the speed of this societal collapse is a wee bit exaggerated).

It's as if Berger thought the plot twist gave him permission to go fully broad with the comedy - and go broad he does; full-bore. His reserved chemistry teacher starts to brew herself up a batch of ecstasy; his hippies start trying to draw everyone into threesomes; and Cross' character reveals a long-held secret that really takes the piss out of everything that came before it.

You realize that "It's a Disaster" is a film driven by a concept, not by the characters trapped inside it - a flourish made all the more clear by Berger's "gotcha!"-style final gag. It's strange: the dialogue and twists are meticulously organized; the actors clearly workshopped and rehearsed the film to death; yet by the third act all the character details go out the window in favor of broad attempts at big belly laughs. It's not the 'lack of psychological fulfillment' at the ending that bothers you. It's the shortcuts Berger takes to get there.


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