‘It’s a Disaster’ lays out the welcome (haz)mat for apocalypse

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IADIt’s a Disaster
Directed & Written by Todd Berger
USA, 2012

If that dead end Mayan calendar taught the world nothing else during the past few years, it did help us all to cozy up to the concept of complete annihilation. The subject became as familiar a part of our well-balanced small talk as the venerable (and very much related) institution of complaining about the weather. And familiarity, to paraphrase the sages, breeds satire. Todd Berger’s new comedy takes its cue from that cultural moment, serving up two of the most glaring symbols of the blasé existentialism of today’s comfortable classes – smirking indifference to the end times and the inevitably brittle weekend couples’ brunch – on a skewer.

There is no denying that the eight people we meet during the course of these proceedings (along with the pair of much-resented bruncheoners who never show up on time) are blatant archetypes. We have the imploding yuppie couple (Erinn Hayes and Blaise Miller); the between-rehab-sessions musicians (Rachel Boston and Kevin M. Brennan); the buttoned-down, mismatched loners (Jeff Grace’s Abed-like comic book geek and America Ferrera’s underpaid and overworked socially-committed high school teacher); and, to complete the picture, the overachieving, under-life-experienced doctor (Julia Stiles) and her new internet suitor: a calm, collected elementary school teacher (expertly played by Arrested Development’s David Cross). Berger’s script makes no serious attempt to explore the inner lives of these characters. Instead, the writer/director offers a kind of potluck psychological profile of a crucial segment of the North American population under a species of strangely welcome duress.

There is nothing very new about a narrative which demonstrates that contemporary relationships (both between supposed friends and between increasingly atomized individuals and the world they should consider “home”) have reached a dangerously frayed point of superficiality. However, Berger’s film does take that insight to an audacious new level by building up to an astonishing climax that reveals just how eager the participants in this little drama are to embrace any opportunity to ring down the curtain on the depressing round of pseudo-obligations and palled pleasures that make up their lives. Egged on by a truly unexpected, but very deftly handled, character shift – with one member of our cast revealed to be a double agent from an entirely different type of satire – the reluctant survivors gradually herd themselves toward a decision that cynical viewers are likely to applaud (if they can ever find the right moment to stop cringing and put their hands together). With a genial wink from beneath the Hazmat suit that he wears during his amusing cameo as doomsayer-next-door Hal, Berger puts his rubberized finger upon our own collective longing for catastrophe – a passion for catharsis at all costs that is brilliantly foreshadowed by the innocuous banter that kicks off the film.

Hazardous materials indeed.

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