The jokes write themselves – It’s a Disaster is, in fact, not a disaster at all (though a brief glitch during the film’s final screening at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival did result in half of the audience tittering “it’s a disaster!” to a temporarily blank screen). Todd Berger‘s film takes some familiar ingredients – an end-of-the-world plot, a cast of characters who are stuck with each other, suburban brunch at its absolute worst – and mixes them up into one heck of a funny and acutely realized comedy stew (quiche?). Amusingly acted, incredibly well-written, and surprisingly adept at mixing and mingling disparate tones, It’s a Disaster is the exact kind of fresh comedy that audiences hope to find at film festivals.
The film centers on a Sunday brunch that is already going to get a bit weird – hosts Pete (Blaise Miller) and Emma (Erinn Hayes) have an ulterior motive for bringing together their best pals for their traditional couples brunch, and it’s not just to meet Tracy’s (Julia Stiles) latest boyfriend, Glenn (David Cross). Likewise, it’s also not watch the Kivels (Kevin M. Brennan and Rachel Boston) go at it when they’re not talking about their latest adventures with drugs and music. And it’s not even to dance around the delicate topic of just when Hedy (America Ferrara) and Shane (Jeff Grace) are going to tie the knot. Of course, all that will happen – along with the most unplanned event of all: a decidedly unnatural disaster that is probably going to kill them all. Whoops, better drink your mimosa now (alternately, and you thought your brunches were awful!).
But when It’s a Disaster opens, none of our four couples have any idea that they’re in for the worst Sunday brunch (hell, the worst Sunday) of their lives – trapped in a house with no way of communicating with the outside world, no way of knowing what is going on, and likely no way of figuring out a happy ending for the couples brunch crew. Berger runs his characters through a believable gamut of situations, emotions, and reactions – and despite occasional bouts of heavy stuff, It’s a Disaster is a wicked comedy that continually surprises and delights (and how often can you feel that way about a film that seems poised to kill off every single character it introduces you to?). It’s a Disaster is really a bit of a marvel, an example of how to sew together disparate genres, tropes, themes, and tones to make one very funny, very entertaining final product.
It’s a Disaster is also a film about confinement – one that gives us a very specific set of people to follow for the film’s runtime (though there are a few amusing moments featuring very special supporting characters, including Berger himself) – and Berger wisely parcels out who we get to know, when, and how. Cross emerges early as the apparent voice of reason, the outsider of the group who seems to be the only one capable of being rational about what’s going on, and he plays the veritable straight man with increasing amusement. Grace makes an MVP play as Shane, as a first act reveal shows his interest in comic books, which naturally unfolds into the sort of geek-centric panache for conspiracy theories that hardcore nerds can often exhibit (and certainly in such heightened circumstance as Shane finds himself). We also get to explore the very different marriages of the Mandrakes and the Kivels, allowing Miller and Hayes to flex some dramatic chops while Brennan and Boston get to shoot straight for character-appropriate laughs.
The film zings along so well and so cohesively that it’s easy to forget the amount of purposeful writing that went into it – essentially, Berger sets ’em up and his cast knocks ’em down. The film has a natural ease of movement that both enhances its comedy and builds its drama. On the most basic level, the plot of It’s a Disaster might seem hard to pull off – just how could a house full of eight people not notice what the heck is going on? – but Berger laces the film through with enough hints and real world situations that any doubt is swiftly released. Cell phones don’t work? Pete and Emma’s house consistently has bad reception. On to the TV, Internet, and the landline (who still has a land line?) – which are also dead. Well, someone didn’t pay the bill. But who didn’t pay the bill? (We’ll leave that one to be a surprise). Of course, there are plenty more surprises in store for the couples who brunch and the lucky audiences who get to watch them do so.
The Upside: A delightful and game cast that exhibits consistent chemistry and humor; a fresh spin on both the end-of-the-world theme (double feature with Seeking a Friend for the End of the World?) and the trapped-with-people-you-hate-and-love trope; a tightly written script that brings laughs and plot development in equal measure.
The Downside: A somewhat slack second act.
On the Side: Berger previously directed Brennan, Grace, and Miller in his amusing send-up of the crime film, 2009’s The Scenesters, which won a number of festival awards, including Slamdance’s Rosebud Award for Most Interesting Film.