With "It's a Disaster," director Todd Berger tackles two frightening subjects: weekly dinner parties and terrorist attacks. Berger sends his top-notch cast to a couple's brunch in the suburbs. Before the meal can be served, however, "dirty bombs" explode in the business district.
An official selection of the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival (LAFF), "It's a Disaster" offers some surprising, definitely human responses to what could be the last moments on Earth. Instead of listening to their survival instincts, this circle of friends focuses on their petty grievances with each other.
"What's clever about what Todd wrote is that it would make for a really boring movie if everybody reacted the way you are supposed to react," cast member Julia Stiles said when reached via telephone. "There was a lot of dialogue, but there also was a lot of improvisation. At times, it felt like we were just hanging out."
Stiles ("The Bourne Ultimatum") plays Tracy Scott, a woman bringing new boyfriend Glenn (David Cross) to meet her friends. Tracy is a doctor and a first-responder, but she's hesitant to leave the safety of the house to brave the toxic gas cloud that's rising over the city.
"I love watching characters, especially in a comedy, who are sub-par for the game," Stiles explained. "The joke here is that [Tracy] is an irresponsible doctor. She's also the one who has the most delayed reaction to the circumstances around the house. I thought it was really funny that even up to the last moment, she was more concerned about the date she brought to this brunch and whether he is a good guy or bad guy."
A crisis situation doesn't bring out the best in Tracy, who won't go in to work because she is not on call. Berger's dialogue gives Stiles the chance to show her character's inner flaws when she refuses to let a late-arriving couple into the house.
"It's acting from self-interest because she doesn't want to open the door," Stiles said. "Because it would mean endangering her own life, she comes up with this bogus excuse."
The actress shares several scenes with David Cross, the character actor who plays would-be boyfriend Glenn. Cross, who has a wonderfully warped scene in "Men In Black II," seems rather subdued here as the boyfriend trying to make a good impression on the group.
"I've been a fan of [David's] from afar before I ever met him," Stiles enthused. "I think one of the reasons he is so funny is that his comedy, whether it is his stand-up or his work on 'Arrested Development,' comes from an intelligent, honest place. He was doing what was appropriate for Glenn."
There's more to Glenn than meets the eye, and Stiles said that her co-star was very careful in calibrating his performance: "He wanted to drop hints about what Glenn was all about and let the audience go back and pick up on it. But he didn't want to reveal anything too soon."
Stiles points out that director Berger wanted each of the characters to represent the different stages of mourning. One character is accepting, another is in denial, but Hedy (America Ferrera) uses her chemistry skills to mix up a batch of what she calls "poor man's Ecstasy."
"America is the most nihilistic one. She has accepted that the world is going to end, so she is going to go out with a bang," Stiles said. "Of course, my character is the most in denial, not accepting the reality of what's happening. Instead, she's transferring her focus to things that are very frivolous."
Berger's script also makes great statements about dependence on technology.
"The people in this movie are completely useless when they are denied anything that requires electricity," Stiles said. "They have no survival instincts or common sense. That all goes away when the computer, cell phone, and radio are taken away from them."
"It's a Disaster" screens Wednesday, June 20, and Saturday, June 23, as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival.
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