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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 26, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 17
Bleakly funny Disaster an instant cult sensation
Arts & Entertainment
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Bleakly funny Disaster an instant cult sensation

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

IT'S A DISASTER
Opens April 26


Emma Mandrake (Erinn Hayes) and her husband, Pete (Blaise Miller), host a semiannual Sunday brunch for their closest friends. As per usual, Tracy (Julia Stiles) is bringing her latest beau, university professor Glen (David Cross), and even though things are going well (it's their third date) she's pessimistically certain he'll prove to be insane just like her past boyfriends. Other guests include chemist Hedy (America Ferrera), her longtime boyfriend Shane (Jeff Grace), and vivacious marrieds Lexi (Rachel Boston) and Buck (Kevin M. Brennan). Jenny (Laura Adkin) and Gordon (Rob McGillivray) are also supposed to attend, but they're perpetually late for everything.

Things go as normal - the girls bicker and banter back and forth while a few of the guys wonder what the score of the game is. Yet things aren't what they seem. Shane's attempt to bid for a rare comic book is undone by a bad cell connection. The score of the game can't be ascertained because the cable is out. Going to the computer isn't helping, as the Internet is down as well. On top of that, Emma and Pete are getting a divorce, a little tinsel of information that inadvertently slips out long before the pair intended it to.

And oh yeah. On top of all the regularly scheduled domestic drama, terrorists have detonated a handful of 'dirty' bombs downtown, the effects of which are slowly engulfing the remainder of the city. Trapped in the house, no way to escape, forced to seal it off completely from the outside world, the four couples are slowly coming to the realization that this afternoon just might be their last, their individual problems still important if now a bit insignificant considering current events.

DEEPLY COMPLEX
The genius of writer/director Todd Berger's (The Scenesters) It's a Disaster is just how rudimentary and mundane much of what transpires within its fiendishly brief 88 minutes turns out to be. While these seven friends and one newcomer to the group do freak out, do have moments where they ponder doing more than they are humanly capable of, by and large they treat the revelation that this could be their last day on Earth in a way that feels honest, realistic, emotional, and true. It's like someone took The Big Chill, Manhattan Murder Mystery, A Wedding, The Last Supper, Right at Your Door, and a random episode of 'The Big Bang Theory' or 'Modern Family' and dropped them in a Cuisinart, the resulting mélange a surprisingly smart and consistently funny stew I found wholly satisfying.

It's interesting, considering how short the movie is, combined with the number of individuals involved in the chaos, to discover how richly defined all of the characters are. Each is given their own beat, their own moment (some more than others), each performer asked to craft three-dimensional complexity out of the briefest of brushstrokes. Berger's script isn't afraid to push to the extremes, doesn't shy away from potentially alienating viewers by having someone say or do something that might be considered unforgivable, always making sure to keep perspective and the enormity of the situation resonating even if the sandbox being played within is a small one.

It goes without saying that certain actors make more of an impression than others, Stiles and Cross somewhat unsurprisingly stealing a great deal of the limelight. But it should be noted that all of the women excel here, Hayes, Ferrera, and Boston all taking center stage on more than a number of occasions. Each of them makes a magnetic imprint, the deep complexity of the performances a genuine surprise that kept me on my toes.

A SATIRICAL TRIUMPH
Some of this can feel staged, especially early on, Berger's dialogue trying to find just the right John Sayles-meets-Lawrence Kasdan rhythm without quite ever getting there. For about ten minutes I was worried the facile banality of it all was going to force me tune out, and even though I was somewhat intrigued by the way each of the actors was throwing themselves into the proceedings, I wasn't certain there was going to be enough in the way of narrative meat and potatoes to keep me wanting to watch.

How wrong I was. The setup to all that is going to happen is pure inspiration, Berger upping the ante and tightening the screws with confident inspiration. He makes each person real, a flesh-and-blood persona I could relate to and in many ways understand, making the bleak nature of the dark comedy to come all the more hysterically poignant. Better than that, the director crafts a final ten minutes that are as bleakly humorous as they are sublime, closing things out with an imaginative gusto bordering on perfection - making It's a Disaster a satirical triumph almost certain to stand the test of time.

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