Film Review: It’s a Diaster

The poster for 2012’s It’s a Disaster, which is genuinely great and apparently was named one of the best movie posters of 2012.

Today, I stretched back to the old days of … 2012 to watch It’s a Disaster on Amazon Prime. Directed by Todd Berger, the film follows four couples who gather for a Sunday brunch, which is apparently a regular, dreaded feature for these couples. There’s supposed to be a fifth couple, but they’re always late. On top of that, Tracy (played by Julia Stiles) is bringing a new guy around, Glenn (played by David Cross).

Oh, and as brunch unfolds, they learn the world is going to end. Or at least, the United States ain’t sitting too pretty with dozens of dirty bombs going off everywhere.

The funniest thing about the film is that we unknowingly get tipped off to the ending at the beginning. The film begins with Tchaikovsky’s 1982 Overture, you know, the classical piece that builds to the cannons. And it’s playing over a photograph of the 1946 Bikini Atoll nuclear test. As the song continues to rise and soar toward its climax, Glenn’s oblivious self turns the car off. Tracy is perturbed by this because now she psychologically feels incomplete. And she’s not wrong; how are you going to turn it off right before it gets to the best part?

But that foretells the ending of the film, where after the couples learn that the United States has been dirty bombed, including 12 miles from their place (how did they not hear it? Or even feel the shockwave perhaps?), they decide to go all Jim Jones at Jonestown and drink wine laced with rat poisoning. That’s because the dirty bombs are disseminating VX nerve gas, the deadliest gas known to man.

As they do the one … two … three … go … drink, nobody does. They reset, and then go again, and still don’t drink, and then the ending credits come in. We never get that psychologically satisfying climax! Dammit, Glenn.

The first atomic shock wave caused by Gilda’s explosion on June 30 in 1946

The other funny turn of the film is that initially, everyone aside from Glenn seem off their rocker. Nobody cares about the impending doom of the dirty bombs. Nobody is taking it seriously. Nobody has any sense of urgency about sealing up the air vents, doorways and windows. Instead, they continue apace with the usual brunch squabbles about marriage, divorce, cheating, drug use, occupations, and the like. Glenn is the only one who seems normal aside from being a bit socially awkward. Turns out, he’s a freak! He’s the one who proposes the Jim Jones idea. He believes everyone needs to drink so they can be raptured and go to Heaven.

Berger’s brilliant conceit here because it’s an arthouse film is to not go all Roland Emmerich with huge explosions and set pieces that are the hallmark of the disaster genre. He doesn’t have the budget for that. Instead, we get this one house with all the couples and in the background, we hear police sirens, birds, helicopters and such. The late fifth couple dies on the front porch. That’s it. That’s rather smart and brilliant.

Instead, Berger leans into the dark, sardonic humor of these apathetic psychos. One of the funniest is Shane (played by Jeff Grace), who is “taking it seriously” in the sense of asking Tracy if she’s seen anyone with bite marks or scratches, like it’s a dang zombie apocalypse.

Other gags include a neighbor coming over in a full-on hazmat suit to inquire about batteries for his emergency flashlight and suggesting everyone else get into a hazmat suit, as if everyone has one of those handy. He’s also mad that he wasn’t invited to couples brunch after his separation from his wife. Or Liberty Mutual Insurance somehow calling even though the power is out from a call center overseas. Or Tracy’s reaction to the fifth couple dying on the porch is to scold them for always being late. Or Emma (played by Erinn Hayes) condescendingly telling Buck (played by Kevin Brennan) that it’s “duc-t” tape, not “duck” tape and blowing his mind.

This is not a film well-worth going out of your way for, but if you’re looking for a different take on the disaster flick, it’s pretty amusing. I’m all about dark humor.

The most surprising thing about this film is that unlike a typical disaster flick, you never quite get that “crap hitting the fan” moment, which plays well into the continuing theme here of never getting a satisfying climax.

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