You wouldn’t think large-scale death and destruction would be good fodder for comedy, but last year’s Seeking a Friend For the End of the World proved otherwise with its sweet mix of laughs and heart. This year sees two higher profile attempts at the formula with Seth Rogen’s This Is the End and Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, but the odds are both of these will lean far heavier on the comedy aspect.
Unfairly allocated to the limited release indie circuit though is a little film that may just be the best of the bunch. Or should I say, the best of the brunch… (don’t worry, I didn’t write the movie).
Pete and Emma (Blaise Miller & Erinn Hayes) host a regular “couples” brunch for their favorite fellow couples, but today’s get together won’t be going entirely to plan. Judging by how some of the regular attendees despise the mundane nature of the gathering that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Except in this case it totally is a bad thing. In addition to Pete and Emma’s real motive for the brunch, issues arise between the others as well. There’s a reason Shane and Hedy (Jeff Grace & America Ferrera) have been engaged for five years, Buck and Lexi (Kevin M. Brennan & Rachel Boston) have made some questionable choices when it comes to infidelity equality, and Glen and Tracy (David Cross & Julia Stiles) are just trying to get through their third date unscathed.
Oh, and there’s a man at the front door wearing a hazmat suit.
“Lexi’s gone vegan, so everyone has to suffer.”
The beauty of writer/director Todd Berger’s film is in its simplicity. All of the action takes place in a single location by way of the various rooms throughout Pete and Emma’s house with character interactions occurring en masse and in smaller, more intimate exchanges as friends and lovers split off away from the group. We’re given hints as to what’s happening outside, and suspicions are confirmed by their neighbor Hal (Berger) and the typically late arrival of Jenny and Gordon who probably won’t be making that mistake again.
Glen is the newcomer to the group, and he seems to be the antidote to Tracy’s string of self-described “weirdo” boyfriends. When the waffles hit the fan he’s the one who stays calm, collected and focused in their efforts to stay alive and survive the invisible threat outside their walls. Buck and Lexi are fairly relaxed too, but their casual attitudes do more harm (and offer up more laughs) than good as they let spill information that infuriates some of those around them. It seems everyone has secrets to share, and like the members of Stillwater on a sketchy airplane in the middle of a storm the dams open up and truths are revealed.
Thankfully Berger and his cast strike a fantastic balance between the funny and the not-so, and while serious topics arise none of them are allowed to drown out the laughs. Cross and Stiles are easily the most recognizable faces here, and both do strong comedic work. His comedic skills are well know, but she shows a gift for timing and delivery not often explored elsewhere. The others do equally fine work with Grace and Boston being the standouts thanks to some perfectly dry and loopy performances.
A more well-known cast, like the ones from the Apatow and David Wain stables, would easily deliver the big laughs, but as funny as those folks are they don’t excel at hitting the subtle character nuances alongside the guffaws. Berger’s players by contrast benefit from an unfamiliarity with their particular mannerisms leading to laughs and realizations that hit viewers’ funny bones and own experiences like a joke-lined brick. Regrets only come to life when you’re on the precipice of your own death, and Berger’s comedic cautionary tale reminds us that it’s never too late to watch The Wire. Because seriously.
It’s a Disaster received raves on the festival circuit (including one from our own Kate Erbland), and if there’s any justice the film will receive an equally appreciative reception from the public. Seek it out now before your next brunch goes awry.
The Upside: Very funny; surprising amount of heart; moves effortlessly between personal exchanges and larger story; perfect ending
The Downside: Some second act slowdown
On the Side: It’s a Disaster is also currently available on VOD