Todd Berger’s ill-timed and ill-titled comedy is being released at a perilous time – which isn’t the filmmaker nor the movie’s fault. However, It’s A Disaster! is too small and vague to be deemed as controversial or hateful, but it’s theatrical run is so quiet that it runs the risk of not becoming a blip on the average moviegoer’s radar. It’s unfortunate because Berger’s comedy of manners is pretty good and sophisticatedly funny.
The film centres around a group of couples who gather for a Sunday brunch – a tradition for the friends. The friends put on smiles, sip away at glasses of wine, and catch up with each other abut life. Meanwhile, each member of the group has lost their love for these get-togethers. They appear happy, but the audience knows they would rather be anywhere but there.
Just then, the electricity cuts out. Outside becomes desolate – not even a dog is in sight. Soon, a neighbour runs over in a hazmat suit and informs the brunching troupe that bombs have gone off downtown unleashing lethal nuclear gas. Everyone has been told to stay indoors and seal off any openings including vents and doorways.
Berger and his talented cast treat the deadly circumstances with straight faces, but Berger’s script allows the company to get sidetracked when preparing for the worse. A search for a radio becomes an amusing emotional rekindling as characters find old items while others have a debate as to whether you pronounce it “duct tape” or “duck tape” and if satellite radio is worth shelling out extra money for “better results”.
It’s A Disaster! is like watching a really good, well timed comedy team re-enacting their long running comedy show for the big screen. It may be hard to comprehend why It’s A Disaster! needs a cinematic treatment when a troupe like Second City could perform this in a theatrical setting, making the chemistry that more real. But, let’s focus on what Todd Berger is serving audiences, because it’s worth looking at.
The roles are filled out by relatively unknown actors, but they have immaculate timing and skill with delivering all types of jokes. An impressive strength that the company can control is their ability to keep running jokes afloat and funny.
The more recognizable faces are David Cross, Julia Stiles, and America Ferrera and they’re just as strong as their other comedic cohorts. A qualm I had with last year’s Lloyd the Conqueror is that there was a line drawn in the sand between the more skilled performers and the amateurs. I’m very glad that the same separation cannot be found in Berger’s film and that he treats all of his actors as equals.
The film hardly tries too hard to make the audience laugh and a lot of the jokes are written and acted in a dry manner. It’s a style of comedy that isn’t going to make everyone double over with laughter, but as the jokes keep coming, the company keeps a generally consistent momentum which holds our interest throughout and often tickles our funny bone.
Moviegoers won’t feel the comedy dragging its feet or ditching its style when the film decides to focus more on the story. When more bleak moments enter the picture, the ball never feels dropped. We actually appreciate Berger wanting to give us more than we bargained for. Specifically, there’s a very well written and well acted scene between Stiles and Cross as they talk about what a would-be life between them would be like. It’s darkly funny, but very comforting and bittersweet.
It’s A Disaster! is the type of movie that briskly exits theatres only to catch attention on VOD and DVD. It’s a concrete example as to why independent cinema deserves to be seen and supported. Without our eyes on it, it settles for cult classic status on home viewing when it can be so much more. With the talent on screen as well as Berger’s special script and direction, this has all the promise and potential to be a hit. A small hit, but a hit nonetheless.