' ' Cinema Romantico: It's A Disaster

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It's A Disaster

Is there anything worse than being the new boyfriend and your girlfriend taking you to weekly brunch to meet all her friends for the first time at once? Well, there is, sure, but we'll get to that in a minute. Glen (David Cross), however, is Tracy's (Julia Stiles) new boyfriend and she is taking him to weekly brunch to meet her all her friends for the first time at once. As they walk to the front door she provides typical instruction - don't mention this, don't talk about. Once inside, Glen, gracious to a fault, weathers the storm rather nicely. Until the guy in the hazmat suit shows up at the door.

Writer/director Todd Berger's tightly controlled 2012 film, set almost entirely within the generally vast reaches of a single two story home, is another entrant into the coincidental ongoing Rapture Series of the past year in film. Unlike most of those films, however, "It's A Disaster" is less focused on the Rapture itself than on the squabbling of the four couples forced by circumstance to weather the potential end of times together (and the momentary squabbling of the one couple that shows up late that allows for a brilliant recurring visual gag). Ultimately the disaster of the title is revealed to be not so much the possibility of the Rapture as Life Itself.

Hosts Pete (Blaise Miller) and Emma (Erinn Hayes) are in the midst of a divorce they have been keeping a secret from their friends. Emma cheated with Buck (Kevin M. Brennan) and Pete cheated with Lexi (Rachel Boston). This cheating is augmented by the fact Buck and Lexi are married, but lessened by the fact Buck and Lexi are in an "open" marriage. Hedy (America Ferrera) and Shane (Jeff Grace) have been engaged for six years with no timetable for setting a date. Tracy has only ever dated guys who end up being crazy. Glen, however, seems promising, until he doesn't.

They talk about things and they talk shit to each other. They drink. They eat. The guys go to check the score of the game. The power goes out. What's going on? This brings us back to the guy in the hazmat suit, the next-door neighbor (Berger), who ostensibly shows up at the door on the prowl for batteries but really shows up to explain the situation to the characters and us. Sure, sure, it's a bit of screenwriting convenience, but one which I openly excuse because it nicely underscores the group's self-involvement.

The film plants fairly obvious clues - sirens are often heard in the distance, a panicked jogger - that a serious event is afoot, except the characters are too wrapped up in their own issues to notice. The event is this: dirty bombs have been unleashed downtown and in other American cities by unknown people for unknown reasons. People are advised to remain in and seal up their homes, wait it out. The plot, as it must, will thicken, just in its own character-centric way.

It's a bit like Aaron Sorkin writing an episode of "The Twilight Zone", though the dialogue - a little more cutesy than compelling - can't quite chomp like Sorkin's and a couple of the characters hew too closely to archetypes (such as Shane, the sorta guy who you just know watches "The Walking Dead" too analytically) and the deeper layers revealed in each character are really only deeper in theory. Berger's primary interest, however, seems less rooted to the individual characters and more to the group as a whole, and the way a batch of young arrivistes might react in the face of the apocalypse. That is, personal problems boil over and the specifics of the situation outside the door remains background noise even as it directly influences the evolving stages of grief.

The end is open but it's the best kind of open end - the kind that only refuses to end narratively, not thematically. "It's A Disaster" sees its inherent idea all the way through. Never mind that their lives have been up-ended in more ways than one. Never mind that they are on the verge of enduring a "Very long and very painful ordeal." Even when surrender is the best option, we can't bring ourselves to wave the white flag.


Derek Armstrong said...

I really dug this movie -- until, to paraphrase you, I didn't. I actually think the revelation regarding David Cross weakens the movie, though I'm not sure if that's a failure to appreciate the film's sense of humor on my part and a desire for him to continue on as he has been for most of the movie. In that case it's a fairly shallow, "I want to like this character" reading that I should sort of be ashamed of. Until then, though, I loved it for all the reasons you state. A very good example of doing a lot with a little, budgetwise.

Nick Prigge said...

In one way I liked the revelation just because it worked as that "WTF?!" type deal that sort of defines internet dating (not that I'd know anything about that). But, I know what you mean. It does work a bit conveniently to push the film along to its conclusion.