Writer/director Todd Berger’s new film It’s a Disaster showcases the awkward comedy that can ensue from the high-stress that comes with the end of the world coinciding with a weekly Sunday couples brunch. Of course, as you might have already imagined, a weekly Sunday couples brunch already comes with plenty of awkward comedy, so throwing in a few VX bombs—or “the shit from The Rock,” as aimless comic book collector Shane (Jeff Grace) so aptly described it—simply heightens the glory of said awkwardness.
Fans of black comedies know that awkward can come in many different types. There is the Ricky Gervais brand of awkward, which literally boils you in your own discomfort. There’s Larry David’s brand, which is high on the discomfort scale as well. And the severity lessens from there with the likes of Albert Brooks, Seinfeld, Stanley Tucci, Chris Rock, all the way down to Adam Sandler—who used to be amicable and mild on the discomfort scale before falling off completely into the desolate and fetid rotting stew of comedy-less comedy that he’s doing now. Todd Berger falls somewhere in the middle, managing to capture uncomfortable situations in a biting way while also smoothing them over somehow so that he spares his audience the visceral experience of gut-twisting embarrassment. It’s a strange pairing that incorporates a modern savvy snark with the feel good essence that comes with classic Shakespearean comedies.
I can only imagine that Berger’s obvious mastery of dialog and timing must come from the broad base of of his experiences. Because, well, I looked him up on IMDb and it seems that he’s acted in, edited, directed, and cinematographed a bunch of stuff—he even wrote and voice acted in a Smurf cartoon. One can only hope that this wide variety has educated him in the ways of excellence. Otherwise it means that Berger was born with it, and cosmic lottery leaves little hope for the rest of us.
The casting of this film was also excellent. The ensemble works well together. David Cross and Jeff Grace lead the way in the building of situational ridiculousness, which, as I watched, consistently resulted in my personal delight. There were many times early on in this film where I was reminded of classic French comedy. You know, Mon Oncle, Diner De Cons—those gems of the screen that make unbelievable scenarios possible and uproarious. This film is worth watching for this one trait alone.
About two thirds of the way through, however, there is a change that occurs in tone. Things shift from the delightfully awkward to introspective analysis. So instead of David Cross proclaiming how delicious the carrots are in order to evade the strong come-ons of his new girlfriend’s soussy best friend, we now see a marriage on the rocks work itself out in the face of finality. One can only assume that as the world ends this sort of shift would likely happen in real life as people confront their situation, but I had been hoping for a ramping up in absurdity since the beginnings of the film so embraced the ridiculousness of it all. Berger instead chose to sober things up. While this may be closer to verite, it sure does push the pause button on laughs while not really paying off in terms of cathartic drama. It felt more like an existentialist piece wrapped in a work of zany hyperbole. It is for this reason that I avidly dislike this tone switch.
But this tone shift is the only thing I dislike about Berger’s movie. And it is but a small gripe. It’s a Disaster is absolutely lovely. This is a movie that shouldn’t be missed because it is so much fun, even with the weird tone shift in the end. It ends on a high note, and this world and these characters were very fun to live with for the short time I was invited in. I definitely recommend it for it’s enjoyability, and also for study—Berger weaves a detailed plot to incite tons of those mini social train-wrecks that are so much fun to watch.