It’s a Disaster
Rachel Boston, Kevin M. Brennan, David Cross, America Ferrera, Jeff Grace, Erinn Hayes, Blaise Miller, Julia Stiles, Laura Adkin, Rob McGillivray, Todd Berger
R for language including sexual references, and some drug content
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A comic farce about the end of the world morphs into a dreary contemplation of life and failure for a group of thirty-something friends and acquaintances. It’s a Disaster doesn’t quite live down to its title, but it doesn’t reject it entirely either.
Some of the guests know each other, others do not. There are new friends, new lovers and plenty of dramatic tension bubbling under this octet of brunchers as they discover that the end is nigh, literally and figuratively. Lexi (Rachel Boston) and Buck (Kevin M. Brennan) are about to embark on a new stage of their lives together, but not before the release of a deadly nerve agent forces them to seal themselves and their guests inside as each try to understand the complex relationships that have built over the years and try to piece together how life could be should they miraculously survive.
Hedy (America Farrera) and husband Shane (Jeff Grace) are an odd pairing that works surprisingly well together. She’s the upbeat ameliorator. He’s the paranoid conspiracy theoriest. As the day wears on, Shane begins to annoy even Hedy who takes to the bottle rather than face death with her typical pluck. Tracy (Julia Stiles) is bringing over her latest beau Glen (David Cross) hoping to make this one sound like the right one, but ultimately playing into her own jaded history with men, always finding something to despite about them even if a minor flaw.
Emma (Erin Hayes) and Pete (Blaise Miller) are periphery characters that add fuel to the fires, but never distinguish themselves adequately. They are filler characters that make Todd Berger’s screenplay feel bloated. He’s unable to wring emotional connections out of the audience with these two characters, which threatens to topple his carefully arrayed house of cards in this black comedy he also directs.
Conventional storytelling techniques stay out of the way of some frequently clever, sometimes befuddling dark comic bits. There’s a particular scene towards the end of the film with the eight guests around the dinner table that feels particularly weak and out-of-place. Sometimes, the funniest bits are ones that are barely touched on, such as the always-late couple that arrives late, as usual, and are completely oblivious to the toxins in the air around them.
Berger takes a laid back approach to his narrative, hoping the actors will do most of the heavy lifting. That mostly succeeds as Stiles and especially Farrera and Cross add considerably weight to the comedy at play. Brennan and Boston stick pretty close to stereotype, but add just enough familiarity to make them interesting, if not compelling characters. Grace overplays the conspiratorial nature of his character, making it seem completely out of place in this bunch.
The film tries to explore the complexities of modern relationships, but much of the discussion is largely familiar and somewhat superficial. These aren’t characters to which you can easily relate even if they end up as the kind of people you might actually like to hang around with, if only for a little while. It’s a Disaster tries very hard to be about more than what a typical dark romantic comedy would be, but settles for abundant similarities instead.
There is one scene that captures both my interest and my frustration with this film. Before, I referenced a scene where the eight acquaintances are sitting around a table. This scene is a culmination of the woeful ruminations the characters have been making for the prior two acts. They’ve agreed that they should end their own lives on their own terms instead of waiting for the gas to inflict a harsh, painful death on them. As such, eight poisoned glasses (or are all eight poisoned) are set in front of the guests and they are preparing to drink them in one gulp, thus hastening their exit.
It’s such a hokey concept that it immediately feels stale, yet as the scene progresses and they further discuss the problems they’ve all had and uncovered over the last few hours, it becomes an almost cathartic revelation of intentions and everyone begins to come together as we suspect they must from the very beginning. It also becomes the point where the introvert Glen reveals himself as someone who, by comparison to the crazy, mental discussions that have previously passed, is so batshit crazy that the others finally understand there are worse things they could be.
As superficial the revelation may be, it is ends up in a more satisfying, organic conclusion than one might have otherwise guessed. I could have done without the scene altogether, but where the narrative would have gone otherwise, I’m not entirely certain.
June 11, 2014