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It's a Disaster

2013 | 90 min | R | 2.39:1

It's a Disaster


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Theatrical release date

 12 April, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from It's a Disaster Blu-ray

It's a Disaster Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 18, 2012

Reviewed at the 2012 Twin Cities Film Fest

“It’s a Disaster” features a perfectly clever premise ripe for a screen exploration interested in tonal extremes and adventurous characterizations. Filmmaker Todd Berger prefers to play this darkly comic doomsday tale somewhat on the safe side, forgoing a rigorous display of beguiling panic to poke fun at relationship woes and religious paranoia. Berger also overestimates the freshness of the plot, dragging out what appears to be a nifty short film to 90 minutes of sporadic comedy success. There’s something about “It’s a Disaster” that’s ripe with potential, but a slack atmosphere populated with overeager actors grows tiring, lessening interest in their ultimate fate.

Gathering for a Sunday couples brunch, a group of friends is ready to spend the day revealing future domestic plans and sharing current romantic woes. Tracy (Julia Stiles) is a high-strung woman prone to dating disasters, bringing new boyfriend Glenn (David Cross) to the gang for approval, unsure of the meek man. Lexi (Rachel Boston) and Buck (Kevin Brennan) are dim-witted free spirits looking for shared sexual experience to help enhance their marriage. Shane (Jeff Grace) is a pop culture wizard distracted by an online auction for a comic book, while fiancée Hedy (America Ferrara) is deadened by her work and life. And hosts Pete (Blaise Miller) and Emma (Erinn Hayes) are facing divorce, searching for the right time to announce the separation to their friends, while working out their own communication challenges. While immersed in the troubles of their daily lives, several dirty bombs are detonated in downtown L.A., with the resulting air of nerve gas floating slowly to the suburbs. When panic finally hits the brunch crew, the guests react to the apocalyptic news in their own individual ways, leading to a round of personal revelations and meltdowns as the toxic air thickens.

I could see “It’s a Disaster” working wonderfully as a play, with its singular location and reliance on actor idiosyncrasy offering a special experience on stage, asking the audience to follow these stressed types are they ignore the end of the world to wallow in their own personal misery, treating doomsday as more of a nuisance than an event. The material is peppered with satiric elements of self-centered L.A. types and fragments of domestic divide, keeping claustrophobic inside a house for the duration of the picture, with Berger focusing intently on dialogue and the trajectory of mortal consciousness, watching the friends slowly come around to the concept of their own deaths. Theatrically, the material seems like a perfect fit. As a feature, “It’s a Disaster” grows repetitious and comes off unadventurous when taking into account the possibilities of the plot.

Instead of developing a rich comedic insanity as the hours tick by and patience wears thin, Berger dishes up tales of divorce, infidelity, and dating gloom, using time with the suburban captives to hash out hackneyed romantic woes. Perhaps this is Berger’s clever attempt to reinforce the banality of these lives in the face of ruin, but “It’s a Disaster” could honestly go anywhere it wants, making its ultimate choice to hash out relationship dilemmas deflating, falling far short of the madness Berger is blessed with at the opening of the picture. The body count remains low, along with a farcical momentum, with the filmmaker keeping the premise on a short leash, allowing his cast to play broadly with their roles, encouraging feeble improvisations and tuneless dialogue exchanges. There’s also a question of humor, finding many of the jokes in “It’s a Disaster” built around misunderstandings and revelations of misdeeds, with Boston pitching her performance sky high for reasons unknown.

Let’s just say that many of the gags are left in the hands of Julia Stiles and her habitual rigidity. Your mileage may vary.

As previously mentioned, “It’s a Disaster” would feel more at home as a short film, keeping Berger on task with an ideal grip of escalation as the community faces the nerve gas threat. As a feature, there isn’t enough for the cast to do, with superfluous adventures into chemical excess and living room dance parties hampering the pace. There are also difficulties with the ending, which lunges for a slight twist involving religious interests, yet doesn’t quite have the gumption to carry out the surprise to its natural conclusion. I suppose it’s ironic to find that a movie about the end of the world can’t quite nail a satisfying conclusion, but it doesn’t look intentional. In fact, little in the picture appears thought out past the concept stage, keeping laughs and illumination in short supply.

Starring: Julia Stiles, David Cross, Rachel Boston, America Ferrera, Todd Berger, Jeff Grace
Director: Todd Berger

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