Arts Review, Movies

It's a Disaster

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Starring: Julia Stiles (Tracy), David Cross (Glen), Blaise Miller (Pete), Erinn Hayes (Emma), Jeff Grace (Shane), America Ferrera (Hedy), Rachel Boston (Lexi), Kevin M. Brennan (Buck), Todd Berger (Hal Lousteau)

The buzz

Writer-director Todd Berger and It’s a Disaster actors Jeff Grace, Kevin M. Brennan and Blaise Miller have been performing as a comedy troupe The Vacationeers since 2006. Besides performing live, mainly in Los Angeles, they’ve been making videos and created a feature film The Scenesters in 2009. It’s a Disaster is their second film.


The genres

Comedy; couples; end-of-the-world


The premise

Tracy (Julia Stiles) shows up with her new beau Glen (David Cross) at Pete (Blaise Miller) and Emma’s (Erinn Hayes) regular “couple’s brunch,” an event which every one of these middlebrow Anglenos love and dread. Tracy is the odd one out in a group of couples that includes musicians Lexi (Rachel Boston) and Buck (Kevin M. Brennan) and teacher Shane (Jeff Grace) and scientist Hedy (America Ferrera). This is Glen’s first time meeting the other couples and Tracy is concerned about how he’ll fit in.

As the lunch is being prepared, it becomes obvious that something is amiss. Comic tension is built as the computers, telephone and TV stop working, leading Pete to leap to the conclusion that Emma hasn’t paid the bills. In an angry outburst, he reveals to the group that he and Emma are breaking up and this will be the last of their brunches. Before that revelation has sunk in, the next-door neighbour Hal Lousteau (Berger) arrives in an orange survival costume complete with a mask. He delivers the news: dirty bombs have exploded downtown and the end of the world has come. People will start to die within hours, especially if they don’t barricade their doors and seal off their windows.

While duct tape is being applied liberally to the windows to keep the couples alive for a few more hours, confessions fly thick and fast. Infidelities are revealed. Couples break up and get back together again. Finally, Glen—now the odd man in—proposes that they drink poisoned wine together and embrace the Rapture. Will they do it?


The performances

Since this is a comedy timing and attitude is absolutely crucial if the film is to be successful. Julia Stiles (the Bourne series, Dexter) is wonderful as Tracy, appropriately neurotic as the one member of the group who never “coupled” correctly. David Cross, formerly of Arrested Development and Mr. Show, is nimble and entertaining as Glen. Rachel Boston is fine as Lexi.

But what happened to The Vacationeers? Blaise Miller, Kevin M. Brennan and Jeff Grace do very little with their roles. This should have been their film and it’s not.

The writer/director and the skinny

There’s a problem with sketch comedy. It’s based on a clever premise and a set of virtuoso character actors who shine because of their ability to play so many parts reasonably well. But sketches last 10 minutes, not an hour and a half. Great short story writers don’t always become brilliant novelists. Todd Berger can’t build on his two solid pillars, a marital break-up and the end-of-the-world to construct something memorable. In his hands, both concepts yield good results for about ten minutes. But features last 90 minutes.

It’s too easy to play with a title like It’s a Disaster in a review, particularly in a week that will always be remembered for the tragedy at the Boston Marathon. No need to be cruel then—let’s just call this a film that can be missed. And, please, can’t someone find a script for Julia Stiles?

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