Most films about the apocalypse or global crises are often very quick to point out how humanity can begin to crumble within a given social system, giving way to animosity and a drive for survival at all costs. What many of them tend to neglect looking at, however, is what happens to certain subsections of the population that are already fractured to begin with. In this respect, Todd Berger’s low budget, independent, end of days style comedy It’s a Disaster sets itself apart.
Four couples meet up at a suburban home to have a semi-regular brunch date that deep down none of them can stand to begin with. Tracy (Julia Styles) has been single the longest thanks to always attracting psychos, and she brings along her latest beau Glen (David Cross) for only their third date together. Homeowners Pete (Blaise Miller) and Emma (Erinn Hayes) are on the verge of a divorce. High school teacher Hedy (America Ferrera) is almost in the throes of a nervous breakdown and dragging her heels in her engagement to paranoid comic nerd, Shane (Jeff Grace). Also on board and seemingly ruining everyone’s day with their cutsey aloofness is flirty Lexi (Rachel Boston) and her dullard hubby Buck (Kevin M. Brennan). With their relationships all strained to certain degrees, a dirty bomb attack has caused fallout to make its way to their neighbourhood, trapping them all inside while the world begins dying rapidly outside the house.
More of a character study and twisted comedy of manners than an over the top, broad showpiece or outright farce, Berger places the emphasis here on the banter and interplay of the characters. While not everything that he has scripted comes to hilarious ends, his cast constantly sells the material splendidly. He’s crafted a well paced and plotted film that feels oddly real in terms of the feelings and forced mirth that these people are trying desperately to have with one another. These are couples we all know in a situation we all want to avoid. They’re the type of people who just want to tell each other to fuck off but politeness dictates that civility needs to remain intact. They are people so delusional and self-absorbed that appearances are all they have left. Berger achieves this by lucking into a cast that can adequately convey that.
It’s nice to see Cross get a chance to play the straight man for a change instead of being off the wall and wacky. For the majority of the film’s running time he gets to act as the audience surrogate since everyone around him seems loopier than he is. He’s still an awkward and imperfect person, and probably not the kind of guy one wants to spend their last day on Earth with. Styles gets a nice chance to reassert herself as the comedic actress audiences remember from the 90s with her performance as the gruff realist of the bunch, getting the best scene in the film where she literally strands a pair of friend’s outside the house to teach them a lesson about punctuality. Possibly the biggest standout here is the always underrated Ferrera, playing easily the most sympathetic and understandably downbeat of the bunch. Her scenes with Grace have the biggest emotional punch and add the little bit of heart that the film needs to succeed.
It all builds to a curious climax that works on paper thanks to a somewhat nifty and batshit twist, but still feels somewhat abrupt. It makes sense once the punchline to the movie finally hits, but while it’s satisfying, given how much time was spent building these characters up it still feels a little disappointing. Despite that, it’s still an accomplishment that Berger could make a film about such largely unlikeable people in a dire situation this amusing. It’s a feat many people have tried and failed at spectacularly. Maybe it really did take the end of the world to bring out the best in such a dark comedy.