Movie Review: It's a Disaster
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Glen (David Cross) turns off the car radio as he and his date Tracy (Julia Stiles) pull up to a couples’ brunch. Tracy can’t believe it. She wasn’t done listening to the “Overture of 1812.” And she never likes cutting short a beloved song. Cardinal sin.
Confused but earnest, Glen turns the radio back on. But the song has already ended. It’s a perfect example of a guy stepping on toes as he tries his best to navigate a third date. The opening scene of former Austinite Todd Berger’s “It’s a Disaster” sets the tone for a wave of awkwardness that surges throughout the film. Glen may have found it hard to navigate Tracy’s musical proclivities, but his discomfort will multiply when he gets tossed into the murky and tumultuous waters of brunch.
The three couples at brunch act as if they’ve lost agency in their own lives. They show up each month at the Craftsman home of their friends Emma (Erinn Hayes) and Pete (Blaise Miller), but none of them really seems to enjoy it. Each couple harbors petty resentments or damaging secrets, and none seems willing to address their concerns with honesty.
They go through the social motions of increasingly indifferent friendships, making small talk and tolerating each other, while indulging themselves in self-involvement. Lexi (Rachel Boston) and Buck (Kevin M. Brennan) have the vibe of free-spirited swingers, but they don’t consider how their openness affects others. Scientist Hedy (America Ferrera) can’t take the next step with her fiancé of six years, Shane (Jeff Grace), a neurotic nerd.
Pete and Emma appear to have a solid relationship. But it turns out they’re on the verge of divorce. They inadvertently break the news to their friends, leading to a ripple effect of spilled secrets and thinly veiled antagonisms.
Call reception turns spotty and electronics start to fail in the house, confusing matters even more in this small world of disconnection and miscommunication. Goofy and lonely neighbor Hal (Berger in a funny cameo) arrives to tell them that a dirty bomb has been set off in the Los Angeles area. The news leads to some frantic window taping and desperate planning. It also opens the flood gates, as a barrage of secrets unwinds into a messy tangle of lust, distrust and anger.
The couples react to their imminent demise in a variety of ways: Emma and Pete consider reconciliation; Lexi and Buck hash it out in the one place they feel comfortable — the bedroom; and Hedy and Shane spin off into their own manic worlds. Tracy and Pete are left to pinball among the calamities, as collateral damage starts rolling in in real time. The ensemble cast proves adept at building awkwardness, but the characters become more engaging as true anxiety washes over their neuroses.
The brisk script keeps the dialogue bouncing from couple to couple and room to room, as Berger’s camera stays tight on the growing panic. Amid the silly madness, Cross delivers a strong performance as a proxy for the audience, a straight man trying to maintain calm. But his befuddled good-guy character may be hiding the biggest secret of all. Stiles, who proved her comedic chops with a brief role in “Silver Linings Playboook,” plays the type-A obsessive with a sharpness that feels natural.
“It’s a Disaster” blends elements of a morality play with the silliness of a teen sex comedy, which leads to an uneven tone. The couples (and actors) don’t always feel like they belong in the same story. Hayes and Miller deliver the strongest performances, outside of the gently absurd Cross, playing jilted lovers who can no longer conceal their disappointment. The poignancy of their emotions is cheapened by the campy stereotypes of Grace, Boston and Brennan, whose characters feel like stock bits from an improv or sketch comedy scene. But Berger peppers the dialogue with enough clever lines and observational humor about the nature of relationships and human fallibility to make for an entertaining and darkly comic film.