Although its sense of humor is decidedly more uncomfortable than either, It’s A Disaster is the same vein of realistic, self-absorbed approaches to widespread disasters as comedies like Shaun of the Dead & Life After Beth. Instead of a zombie attack, this small group of friends is trying to survive couples’ brunch . . . and the fallout from a series of dirty bombs set off in downtown Los Angeles.
Chemical warfare is the mechanism that keeps the characters cooped up inside the house, unable to escape brunch, but their toxic personal relationships are the real threat. Important news broadcasts are disregarded in favor of confessions of betrayal. Planning for survival takes a backseat to pointless power plays, cruel insults, and sexual advances. This isn’t quite the sadistic, drunken argument gallows humor of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? & The Boys in the Band, but it’s not far off.
It’s the kind of movie that has its cake and eats it too. With mimosas to drink. The personal relationships are vicious, but also sweet. The letdown of an ending is so well handled that it’s a send-up of letdown endings. Everyone’s having the worst day of their life, but also a pretty great time. There’s a very delicate balance between jovial & soul-crushing that It’s A Disaster handles expertly. It obviously helps that the entire film is hilarious.
It’s partly the casual nature of the performances that keeps the mood light despite the grim premise. Julia Stiles & America Ferrera are particularly great here, but the one performance that really struck me is David Cross’. Cross usually goes big in his comedic roles and is rarely afforded time to slowly ramp up the crazy the way he is here. Usually he plays a ridiculous caricature suited for his sketch comedy roots, his entire personality established early & often. Even in last year’s Obvious Child, Cross played the one character in a grounded cast that felt unbelievable as a real person. In It’s A Disaster, Cross is introduced as an audience surrogate, a doorway into an established world of ludicrous, lethal friendships before the pressure of the situation gets to him and he joins their ranks. I’ve always enjoyed Cross’ work, but this is up there among his best. It’s a great performance in a great film about an awful, awful brunch.