It’s a Disaster is an unfortunate title that invites unimaginative jabs about being an apt description of the film itself, though this apocalyptic dramedy isn’t so much catastrophic as it is disappointing. Peppered with witty non sequiturs and snappy performances, the film flirts with big ideas about adult relationships, but fails to locate any gravitas about its characters’ existential or psychological crises.
Those crises run amok as the story’s eight characters—four American couples brunching together in one of their homes—are forced to live their few remaining hours together indoors after a chemical weapon is set off in their city (likely the beginning of WWIII). Expectedly, each character undergoes a different kind of breakdown predicated on their own self-absorbed hang-ups, which range from jealous rage over infidelity to nerdy, pop culture-based paranoia. At least two of the relationships are on the verge of dissolution. Emma (Erinn Hayes) and Pete (Blaise Miller), hosts of the so-called “Couples Brunch,” are the normal, ingénue couple, who invite their friends over to gently break the news of their divorce. The couple that breaks up Emma and Pete are the polygamous, free-spirited, heavily tattooed Buck (Kevin Brennan) and Lexi (Rachel Boston), imbued with a dim-witted flakiness that makes them little more than fluffy, caricaturish distractions amid the chaos. Hedy (America Ferrera) and Shane (Jeff Grace) make up the second flawed relationship; though the narrative imports little context about their actual dynamic, there are explicit hints that Shane’s anal retentiveness prevents Hedy from finally setting a wedding date after six years of engagement. The film’s strongest performers, Julia Stiles and David Cross, make up the mostly neutral fourth couple, Tracy and Glenn, who are on their third date.
It’s a Disaster strangely blends witty sitcom humor with white-privilege anxiety, but it forms neither a comedy or a drama. Given the seriousness of the premise, with its fatal outcome made deliberate in narrative development, the film leaves little doubt that it’s interested in exploring psychological fallout, detailing the thought patterns and bizarre behaviors of people who must overcome their own upcoming mortality. Indeed, Berger has noted in interviews that each character is supposed to represent a different stage of grief, which is an interesting, if formulaic, way to get extremist emotions bouncing off one another for purposes of hilarity. Hedy, for example, accepts that her life is over, and though she’s stricken by pain and confusion, she attempts to find closure in food, booze, homemade drugs, and being extremely upfront with everyone about everything. Emma and Pete, on the other hand, find it in their hearts to make up in order to spend their remaining hours in love. Glenn is the calmest and most helpful of them all, but a tawdry twist at the end reveals his creepy Christian beliefs in which he tries to “help” the others get into Heaven through wine poisoning before Judgment Day.
The allocation of one psychological stage per person isn’t exactly a realistic approach, since we generally tend to cycle through all (or at least most) of them when faced with death. For a film that attempts to distill a modicum of realism despite an absurdly ghastly scenario, Berger’s problematic formula is indicative of the film’s shortcomings. It’s not difficult to grasp how one might go about developing the well-worn existential premise of impending doom through the vehicle of comedy (dark humor, farce, and absurdity are some well-trusted routes), but Berger’s irreverent touch never quite feels appropriate given the characters’ propensity for histrionics. Imagine an episode of your favorite sitcom in which the world ends; it’s an unfathomable scenario for a diegesis with built-in inanity, and the same applies to It’s a Disaster. Jokes about how one has never lived life fully without watching The Wire may contain a grain of salt and even force a chuckle, but they’re glib, inconsistent, and feckless in the face of disaster.