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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 12.03.12] comedy



Apocalyptic comedies aren't exactly a dime a dozen and there's a good reason for that: they're hard to pull off. The marriage of comedy and despair is exceptionally difficult and requires even more balance than usual and so we don't often get to see laughs mixed with impending doom.

Enter writer, director and actor Todd Berger and his comedy It's a Disaster which opens with a fairly typical awkward moment in a car. Tracy (Julia Stiles) and Glenn (David Cross) are on a date and the two are having an uncomfortable moment which is only the tip of the iceberg of a day which will get progressively worse. Glenn is meeting Tracy's friends for the first time at a weekly couples brunch which includes the long-engaged Hey and Shane, the crazy Buck and Emma and hosts Lexi and Pete who are the outward picture of a perfect marriage.


While awaiting the arrival of their always tardy friends, the group sits around the table chitchatting until the men decide that they would rather watch the football game than drink wine and small talk but it soon becomes apparent that something isn't right. Cell phone signal goes first, followed in rapid succession by cable, telephone and internet connection before the lights go out. While the couples argue over what could be going on, the next-door-neighbour (Berger in a hazmat suit) drops in and informs the confused friends that dirty bombs have gone off downtown and that the emergency broadcast system is advising individuals to stay inside and cover up doors and windows. Stranded, the couples prepare to spend the next few hours together.

The friendly facades quickly fall away and the seemingly happy couples quickly disintegrate under the pressure as it becomes clear that they don't have long to live. What's interesting about Berger's movie is that the unfolding events highlight just how petty human nature can be and in nearly every instance, from the school teacher to the doctor, it's revealed that when it comes down to it, all of these players are selfish and ugly human beings.

It's a Disaster is a comedy but it's not one that relies on big laughs. There are a few laugh out loud moments but Berger's movie is mostly a compilation of amusing conversations and situations which are that much funnier when you consider that they're set to the backdrop of impending death. Berger's script is very cynical of humanity and our selfishness and drive for self-preservation and in the end, it's that cynicism that makes It's a Disaster so effective and ultimately so funny; there's no better coping mechanism to dealing with being shown our faults than laughing at ourselves.

Occasionally Berger tries too hard to infuse his script with quick wit and cultural references that make a movie quotable but It's a Disaster is at its best when Berger evaluates and breaks down social interactions and norms to get at the core of what makes individuals and relationships tick. The real comedy is in realizing that the most outwardly screwed up relationship can be the healthiest and that some people are magnets for crazies.

Though the jokes are sometimes hit and miss, It's a Disaster manoeuvres through the bad, of which there isn't much, to deliver a hugely entertaining movie that hits on some painful truths.

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