Published Apr 18, 2013As suggested by the simple yet evocative title, It's a Disaster, the central, guiding gag of Todd Berger's apocalyptic comedy of manners links the absurdity of hyperbolized social silliness with the most dire of mortal anxieties: annihilation.
Like a higher concept, less metaphorically rich variation on Carnage, with a healthy dose of Exterminating Angel satire, the set-up is that of a brunch — a ridiculously conceived and entirely unnecessary portmanteau in itself — where four couples confine themselves to a suburban home after learning of dirty bombs being dropped nearby.
It simplifies the scenario, reducing the action to a single locale, while forcing the situational humour of protracted customary awkwardness exacerbated by the depleted etiquette demonstrated when death, or failure, becomes inevitable.
Hosting couple Emma (Erinn Hayes) and Pete (Blaise Miller) are having marital woes. It's not clear at first when everyone is politely asking arbitrary questions about each other's lives, offering transparent forms of flattery while exaggerating their happiness and contentment. But once the power goes out and the couple start blaming each other for not paying the bill, the imperfections in everyone begin to emerge.
Hippie pair Lexi (Rachel Boston) and Buck (Kevin N. Brennan) start revealing their sexual liberties, coming on to Tracy's (Julia Stiles) date —group newcomer Glen (David Cross) — while Hedy (America Ferrera) and Shane (Jeff Owens) begin to realize that marriage may not be a plausible option.
All of this is filtered through the exaggerated behaviours that knowledge of the end-of-the-world brings: Tracy mopes; Hedy succumbs to shock; Lexi and Buck indulge in simpler pleasures; and Shane has the constant, irrational emotional reactions of a control freak. Conversations about what the afterlife might bring arise, as do confessions of infidelities and repressed truths.
Berger's decision to ground all of this within the logical lexicon of human behaviour and likely response leaves the comedy of mixed honesty and feigned niceties to do most of the work. The plot, or concerns about the root cause ("If I'm going to die, I think I have the right to know who is the one doing it"), exists merely to allow these idiosyncratic, overly conditioned people to have awkward conversations and make pithy observations about how annoying a heaven with 160 billion people playing harps would be.
While there's nothing groundbreaking or particularly new, the levity and acute observations about human inanity are often laugh-out-loud funny. And what's weird is that even though Boston and Brennan are positioned as the comic relief, being the hippie-dippy idiots of the bunch, America Ferrera demonstrates the strongest comic timing, being the practical doctor that decides to make homemade ecstasy for shits and giggles.
The notion that silly social customs, like brunch, are treated with reverence and significance when life is so short and fleeting is the biggest joke of it all. But the greatest part of It's a Disaster is that these eight people never figure that out. (VSC)