Sean K. Cureton

Recommendation of the Week: It’s a Disaster (2012)

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on August 23, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Theatrical Poster

It’s a Disaster (2012)
Directed by Todd Berger
Netflix Rating: Really Liked It

It’s a Disaster is an independent film that had its world premier at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June of last year, went on to screen at a number of other festivals within the independent film circuit, and was released commercially in April of this year. It was written and directed by Todd Berger, a member of the comedy group “The Vacationeers,” and is an alternative comedy about the end of the world, vis-a-vis bio-chemical warfare. It stars various members of the aforementioned comedy group, as well as unaffiliated comedian David Cross in an unexpectedly dramatic turn, and proves to be a film that is subversively hilarious, psychologically engaging, and utterly realistic in tone and approach. Instead of taking its clichéd premise and running the gambit of exhausted cinematic apocalypse fodder, Berger takes his subjects into a personal hell that proves to be more frightening than the very real one which lies right outside the relative safety of the quiet suburban home which serves as the film’s setting. Berger’s characters are collectively selfish, vapid, and dysfunctional, which serves to create some incredibly funny interpersonal situations of which the film’s impending doom influences and propagates to dramatic effect, creating a comedy about the end of the world that is appropriately dark as well as existentially ridiculous, much like an actual end of the world scenario.

One of the more striking aspects of Berger’s cinematic debut that separates It’s a Disaster from more pedestrian end of the world fare, such as this summer’s This is the End, penned and directed by Judd Apatow’s creative prodigies Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, comes in Berger’s wealth of dialogue that is ultimately more interested in character types than outlandishly bombastic punch lines. Berger’s film allows space for his characters to grow, and in growing provides the means for a clever satire to develop which pokes fun at the most recently established line of end of the world fictive fare, of which Rogen and Goldberg’s aforementioned comedy is a part. The characters in It’s a Disaster are wrapped up in themselves to such a point where the end of the world comes as a complete surprise to them, which proves to be more annoying than genuinely terrifying. Instead of meditating on their now threatened mortality, Berger’s characters are more concerned with the scores of a current football game, the dissolution of their own privatized worlds, or who can be trusted as a capable ally in a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max, anarchic wasteland which is sure to follow in the aftermath of the impending disaster. In other words, It’s a Disaster is a clever character study wrapped up in a post-modern take on the end of the world fictive tradition, and its characters are self-aware players in Berger’s inimitably brilliant farce.

And yet, despite Berger’s post-modern distancing from any sentimentality, which might be more realistically, or melodramatically, attached to an end of the world fictive scenario, the film is still imbued with a sense of realism which allows for a somber appraisal of an actual end of the world scenario, as Berger’s characters react to their situation in much the same way that viewers might react to the situation themselves, post-modern posturing and self-aware detachment accounted for. Instead of using his own understanding and knowledge of the end of the world fictive tradition to influence comedy strictly for comedy’s sake, Berger applies such knowledge to produce a film that draws attention to, rather than encouraging, an unsentimental reaction to the fictive material and scenario. Berger’s film is thus more interested in satirizing the very notion of satirizing the end of the world cinematic tradition, but in a way that feels more genuine and sincere than the aforementioned attempt made by Rogen and Goldberg. Berger’s characters are often painfully detached from what is going on around them, and their selfishness knows no bounds, which is a major reason why the film is so predominantly comedic. In despite of this fact, however, Berger’s characters are meant to be stand-ins for ourselves, marking their plight and actions as implicative of our own probable emotional detachment in a culture which has become so super inundated with apocalyptic cinematic fare, which is decidedly more sincere than comedy for comedy’s sake.

With all of the end of the world comedies and dramas which have been released in the past couple of years, you’d be hard pressed to find one that will stick with you as offering something not found, or at least parodied, in any one of the others. Each of these films, from Rogen and Goldberg’s This is the End, to last summer’s admittedly affecting melodrama Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, it would appear as though Hollywood has ceased to think critically about just what end of the world fiction says about our own socio-cultural identities as people, born with the knowledge that we will die one day, before or after the world as we know it inevitably comes to an end. Thankfully, Todd Berger is thinking critically about the implications of creating yet another end of the world film, and offers a film which is clever, dark, and sincere in its appraisal of the end of the world fictive tradition without becoming too bogged down in post-modern, ironic, self-aware posturing. It’s a Disaster doesn’t feel overly sentimental, and yet its accurate portrayal of its decidedly ironic and self-aware characters lends the film an authenticity of approach and understanding that is lacking or just not present in other more recent comedies trying to do many of the same things. Todd Berger’s cinematic debut is a blast, and it deserves to be seen by anyone who thinks they’ve already seen every iteration of the end of the world comedy. Trust me, you haven’t seen this one.

It’s a Disaster is available on Netflix Instant View, and is my Movies on Netflix: Recommendation of the Week.

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