Oct 31 2013
It’s always a treat to come across a movie you’ve never heard of that has actors you’re crazy about. So when I randomly walked into my living room the other night and saw my roommate watching something where David Cross and Julia Stiles were sitting in a car having an awkward conversation about the radio, I stuck around. Color me intrigued. I’ve always had a soft spot for Julia Stiles (I liked 10 Things I Hate About You, and now I don’t have to even defend it to anyone because of the Heath Ledger Retroactive Immunity Card), and David Cross is obviously great. But if this was an awesome movie, surely I’d have heard of it?
Short answer: it’s an awesome movie, and apparently it just slipped through the cracks. It has the same kind of aesthetic as a Duplass brothers movie – droll, wry social commentary is the order of the day. But the real treat of this movie – aside from the uniformly stellar cast – is the way it pulls off tone shifts. There’s some pure artistry at work here in the way the movie shifts from straight comedy to dark comedy to drama to heartwarming to Theater of the Absurd, and back again, and then mixing and matching seemingly at will. Most movies would pull a hamstring trying to make it work, but this one breezes through them like Cathrine Zeta-Jones through the laser beams. (Entrapment? Anyone? Sean Connery? That one scene with the string, and the bending, and the… string, and the…bending…?)
So, what’s this movie about? Well, let me tell you:
Ummm… what were we talking about?
So it’s a pretty simple story, really. 8 people at a regularly-scheduled couple’s brunch, David Cross is the odd man out, having been brought by Julia Stiles as her date. (Way to outkick your coverage, Cross.) This leaves David Cross to play the straight man to 7 mildly-to-totally dysfunctional people holding together their lives through a thin veneer of civility and brunch. For someone in their 20′s who’s just starting to experience the first “I promised myself I’d never get old and boring but oh god somehow it’s happening anyway” pangs of real adulthood, the first twenty minutes of the movie are painfully hilarious.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a great movie without a big fat curveball. There’s a kind of fridge brilliance to the way the end of the world starts… because it’s so mundane, you almost miss it. A police car goes by. The internet doesn’t work. This turns into a tense-yet-funny argument between the hosting couple about who forgot to pay the bills. Then the lights go out. Then a neighbor shows up at their door in a Hazmat suit. He’s confused that they don’t know what’s happening, and peeved they didn’t invite him to brunch. The kind of tonality It’s A Disaster plays with is just awe-inspiring. For example, you have the 5th couple, who are always late, show up late. But by this time, the main cast has duct-taped the house shut.
A scene like that could break a lot of ways in a lesser movie. But this one manages to stay on the tightrope. It’s not totally absurd – although Rachel Boston commenting on Jenny’s coat and Gordon collapsing while mumbling “who’s Claudio?” are definitely in that ballpark – but it’s in no way played for drama or tension. The late arrivals are quickly dismissed, and we even feel some sympathy for Stiles – who hasn’t been incredibly frustrated by friends who are chronically late? It’s the situation itself that brings the comedy into sharp relief, instead of being forced – because the drama of two friends confronting each other happens against the backdrop of a global catastrophe.
That’s one of the things I love about this movie. The apocalypse happens in a normal, scary way. We’re almost hardwired to think the end of the world comes with a metal soundtrack and a huge FX budget, but that’s not the way it would really happen. I think mostly people would be confused. And not a “mass panic, riot in the street” confused – the quiet, absurd kind, like this. In the interest of spoiling the movie, I won’t talk about how each guest reacts to the pressure, but let me just say, some of them are quite memorable, and some of them are hilarious. America Ferrera has some scene-stealing moments.
But let’s be real – David Cross is what brought me to the door, so it’s only appropriate that he slams it shut with gusto. The last 10 minutes of the movie have a reveal, a twist – whatever you want to call it – that’s absolutely perfect, in that I never saw it coming but it wasn’t something cheap and out of nowhere. As it happens, you’re wondering if it’s another gag – mostly because Cross plays the straight man so incredibly well – but the dawning comprehension on the face of… ahh, I can’t really talk about it. Just, trust me. It’s a great, great moment.
The only quibble I had was with the ending. I suppose it would have been hard to end it in a definitive way, but it’s a bit of a an unsatisfying ending. Compared to Safety Not Guaranteed, a movie with similar genre-defying characteristics as well as a similar tonal tap-dance, the ending feels a little too obviously ambiguous, if that makes any sense.
I don’t do stars or numbers for movie reviews; context is too important. For me, having this come out of nowhere and surprise me made it a completely enjoyable experience. Now that I’ve hyped it, maybe you’ll be let down. Who knows. I think it’s definitely worth seeing, and it’s on Instant Streaming, so what the hell are you waiting for? Do you not like David Cross or something? What kind of monster are you?
Certainly not the kind who’d force people to come to brunch.
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