EIFF REVIEW: Hellish brunch meets Armageddon in hilarious It’s a Disaster

If the idea of a Sunday “couples brunch” makes you want to kill yourself, then It’s a Disaster is for you.

Even if it doesn’t, this darkly delicious black comedy has so much going for it that you won’t want to miss the brunch almost literally blowing up. The premise is simple: shortly after a couple on their third date arrive at a party – which is already fraught with tension – some catastrophe happens in their downtown area (and in several other cities). It may be the detonation of several “dirty bombs” or the release of a deadly nerve gas. Whatever it is, World War III may be on the verge of breaking out.

The film screens Saturday at 7:30 at the Empire City Centre 9 Cinemas. Writer-director-star Todd Berger will attend the gala finale event at The Edmonton International Film Festival (EIFF).

As Sartre famously observed, “Hell is other people,” and these very modern couples are a bit hellish, so absorbed with their own internal dramas that they have a hard time focusing on the external disaster.  When they do, it’s more about themselves and how they’re going to deal with the so-called end of the world.

The cast is fabulous, with Julia Stiles, of the Bourne Identity trilogy and TV’s Dexter fame, America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), and David Cross from Mr. Show and Arrested Development. The rest of the cast has no trouble going head to head with this powerhouse trio. The writing is scathingly accurate, hilarious, and full of pop culture references. When Tracy (Stiles) is listing all the things she hasn’t done in her life she cites, “never having gone to Europe, or even Canada, Montreal is almost European,” and several other things, including watching The Wire. Her boyfriend replies, “Most of those things are over-rated, except The Wire, which is really good.”

Dialogue bristling with smart character observations and sarcasm in equal measure comes thick and fast throughout. The couples depicted may be shallow and self-absorbed, but as an audience, we can’t help both identifying with some of their concerns, or recognizing some of these types in people we know. There’s the girl who always dates crazy people, the guy who can’t be offline for a second for fear of missing something, to the couple who are perpetually late for everything.

That recognition is what makes the film both painful and hilarious to watch, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Films that can do both are rare. The end of the world hasn’t produced this much wicked satire since 1964, when Stanley Kubrick and Peter Sellers took on nuclear Armageddon in Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.