Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
May 2013

It's a Disaster

The last brunch

'It's a Disaster' makes a delightful romp out of impending doom

It's a Disaster
Oscilloscope Pictures
Director: Todd Berger
Screenplay: Todd Berger
Starring: David Cross, Julia Stiles, Erinn Hayes, Blaise Miller, America Ferrera, Rachel Boston, Jeff Grace and Kevin M. Brennan
Rated R / 1 hour, 28 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

We have officially arrived at the comedy portion of our cultural preoccupation with the end of the world. Not that the apocalypse has never been funny - one can go at least as far back as the closing montage of Dr. Strangelove to see how hilariously and conclusively a comedy can usher in The End - but it appears we've stumbled into something of a trend lately.

Last summer we got Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, this June it's the star-studded meta-comedy This is the End, and bringing up the rear on the summer season is the long-anticipated final chapter of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's "Cornetto Trilogy," The World's End. And while, unlike those others, the latest entry in this unofficial subgenre may not include any form of "the end" in the title, the general idea of It's a Disaster remains the same: Isn't it funny how we're all about to die?

End-of-days cinema goes through many moods and stages; I believe we've reached Acceptance Through Laughter, if that's a thing.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before our movies began arriving at this conclusion en masse. Our de-facto prophet of apocalyptic doom (if only on the basis of volume), Roland Emmerich, has been a self-parody for so long, it's hard not to associate global annihilation with farce. We can only see the world get blown to bits so many times before we reach a tipping point, and we can no longer view those images without a sense of irony.

It's a Disaster takes place almost entirely indoors, the only real look at the outside world being an opening scene in a car set to the Overture of 1812, which is abruptly cut off in the moments leading up to its distinctly apocalyptic finale. There are a couple of similarly abrupt pauses in a crucial scene late in the film, and the way writer/director Todd Berger hesitantly embraces his characters' hesitant embracement of their plight makes for a terrifically offbeat slice of comedy.

The couple being ushered in by Tchaikovsky in the opening scene are Glen (David Cross) and Tracy (Julia Stiles), who are on their third date and still awkwardly feeling out each others' personalities. But Glen is enough of a prospect to be invited to the couples' brunch that Tracy and her friends get together for every month. They're joined by three couples much farther along in their respective relationships - Emma and Pete (Erinn Hayes/Blaise Miller), Hedy and Shane (America Ferrera/Jeff Grace) and the eccentric, free-spirited Lexi and Buck (Rachel Boston/Kevin M. Brennan).

The end of the world announces itself as innocuously as it can. At first, it's just that no one can get a signal on their phones. Then they can't get the game on TV. Then the electricity goes out. Then the landline. And then a neighbor in a hazmat suit stops by to give everyone the bad news. When it all comes down to it, the end is an annoyance more than anything else - primarily guilty of interrupting a lovely afternoon among friends.

Yes, it gets more complicated than that - for everyone - but the laid-back mood of the brunch never really goes away. The get-together begins with the casual chatter of a group of couples, and it ends that way. And in between, the eight of them get to go through all the stages of grief within the same four walls. This isn't the time to panic - this is the time for marital distress, homemade recreational drug use, surreal sexual propositions and half-hearted attempts to find survival tools. There's a smirking lack of seriousness, and I mean that in a good way. The apocalypse may be a serious thing and all, but that doesn't mean we can't lighten the mood.

In the midst of all the chaos, Berger finds a great way to utilize, as a plot device, the couple that's perpetually late to everything (we all know that couple); true to form, that couple - the would-be ninth and tenth members of this final brunch - shows up all too late.

The exact genesis of the event itself remains ambiguous. We're told that biological weapons are somehow involved, but we can't be entirely sure - and even then, we don't know who or where they came from. Shane suspects extraterrestrial intervention.

It's a Disaster works precisely because of the way it insulates itself from the actual catastrophe. Berger's approach not only takes a comic view of the kind of angst that might accompany such an event, but it reflects a gleefully sardonic attitude toward apocalyptic fiction in general. I especially like the way he builds and prolongs the climactic scene, his use of a couple of repeated shots making for a fantastic punchline. As far as the movie is concerned, that - a punchline - is exactly what the situation calls for, end of the world be damned.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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