MRR Review: "It's a Disaster"

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A doomsday comedy in which four couples meet for Sunday brunch only to discover they are stuck in a house together on the verge of what may be an apocalyptic disaster. Written and directed by Todd Berger, the film stars Julia Stiles, David Cross, Erinn Hayes & America Ferrera.
3.5

MRR Review: "It's a Disaster"

-- Rating: R
Length: 88 minutes
Release Date: June 20, 2012
Directed by: Todd Berger
Genre: Comedy

"It's a Disaster" is a 2012 black comedy that is primarily shown in film festivals and art houses. Todd Berger wrote, directed, and starred in this film. Additional stars of the movie include members of the Vacationeers, a comedy group based in Los Angeles. Other stars in this film are Rachel Boston, David Cross, America Ferrera, Jeff Grace, Erinn Hayes, Kevin M. Brennan, Blaise Miller, and Julia Stiles.

"It's a Disaster" premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 20, 2012. Oscilloscope Laboratories acquired the distribution rights for the film in the United States on April 12, 2013.

The film begins with four couples meeting at one of their houses for a brunch that includes a casual therapy session in which everyone airs their grievances about their partner. The city comes under a mysterious attack, causing the gathering to take a darker turn. These normal people become increasingly unstable as they remain trapped in the house and are unsure of their fate. Everyone in the group has known each other for a long time, so they use innuendo to exchange subtle barbs with each other. The underlying cattiness of the conversations may initially escape the audience's notice.

Pete (Blaise Miller) and Emma Mandrake (Erinn Hayes) plan to make an unexpected announcement about their marriage. Shane Owens (Jeff Grace) and Hedy Galili (America Ferrera) are still engaged after six years with no marriage in sight. Meanwhile, Buck (Kevin M. Brennan) and Lexi Kivel (Rachel Boston) are free spirits who play the glockenspiel. On the other hand, Tracy Scott (Julia Stiles) prepares to introduce newcomer Glen Randolph (David Cross) to the group.

Lexi has just become a vegan, so no one is allowed to bring a meat dish. Emma makes a vegetable quiche, and Tracy prepares a stew-like concoction in a crock pot. To make matters worse, their television isn't working and cell phone reception is poor. The conversation is also interrupted by the wail of sirens from emergency vehicles, which takes on greater significance later.

A neighbor comes by to borrow some batteries before the group sits down to eat. The neighbor is wearing a hazmat suit and informs the group that some dirty bombs have exploded in downtown Los Angeles, releasing deadly VX nerve gas. Shane is a conspiracy theorist who speculates that the North Koreans are responsible. Hedy is a scientist who estimates that the group has about three hours to live before they die a slow, agonizing death. The group makes some preparations with a single roll of duct tape and some plastic wrap.

The producers of "It's a Disaster" describe it as a black comedy, but its humor is actually based on the group's collective lack of social graces. The improvisational experience of the actors is apparent in the rapid-fire banter that uses indirect, low-key humor to lessen the dramatic prospect of the group's impending doom. The actors in this ensemble have worked together for a long time, giving them precise comedic timing that allows them to react deftly to each other's lines. The humor in the film is consistent, although the imminent possibility of being poisoned prevents it from becoming overly farcical.

The theme of living on the edge of disaster is apparent from the opening credits, which show an idyllic tropical beach with thatched huts. The camera zooms out to show a mushroom cloud rising in the distance over the water. The music expresses the theme of climatic revelations with compositions such as Ravel's "Bolero" and Tchaikovsky's "1812 overture." The premise of the film is similar to that of the 1962 satire "The Exterminating Angel" by Louis Bunuel, in which a group of diners is unable to leave the house.

The inappropriate reactions of the characters to their situation form the basis for the humor in the film. They soon deny the threat of impending death and revert to their normal behavior patterns. This stubborn determination to pretend that it's just another brunch also contributes towards the comedy in the film. Members of the group consistently become more upset over a betrayal by their partner than by a possible nerve gas attack.

The comedy in "It's a Disaster" doesn't rely primarily on the punch lines. America Ferrera and Julia Stiles are relatively newcomers to comedy, although they perform well in this film. The other cast members are experienced comedic actors, and David Cross is especially effective in his role. His talent is most apparent from the laughs he gets with throwaway lines.

Rating 3.5 out of 5