It is said that laughter is the best medicine. While we are quarantined inside during this COVID-19 pandemic, waiting for the spread of the virus to slow and hoping a vaccine will be developed sooner rather than later, why not sit back with a quarantine comedy? It's a Disaster (2012) is a hilarious dark comedy written and directed by New Orleans native Todd Berger.
The movie opens with Tracy (Julia Stiles) and Glen (David Cross), a couple whose dating relationship is fairly new. On this particular day, they are having a brunch date with several other couples who are all friends of Tracy's. There is the couple in a rocky marriage (Erinn Hayes and Blaise Miller), the swingers (Rachel Boston and Kevin M. Brennan), and the eternally engaged couple (America Ferrera and Jeff Grace). Naturally, Glen feels awkward, being the new guy, but the situation gets weirder for everybody when it appears that there may have been a biological/chemical incident that has rendered the air toxic. So, the four couples barricade themselves inside the house, taping the doors and windows shut with duct (not duck) tape.
So, what is funny about all this? Well, the film is chock full of extremely funny observations. For instance, several characters wonder if they have to wear the clothes they die in or white robes when they get to heaven. A character adds, "I bet you get a sweet-ass harp, too." There are so many humorous moments here, whether it be a situation or a line of dialogue, that the movie is totally durable for repeat viewings.
I recently had the good fortune to talk with the film's creator, Todd Berger, about the origin of It's a Disaster and how he views the film today.
Where Y'at: There is new interest in this dark comedy because of this scary pandemic we are living through. How do you feel about that? Do you see your film in a different light because of what is now really happening in the world?
Todd Berger: Yeah, I'm a bit of two minds about it because, on one hand, I'm like, "Awesome, people are rediscovering the film," but on the other hand, I'm like, "But for the worst reason possible." But I am seeing the film in a new light because it seems like some people are finding a sort of solace in the movie, and it's actually helping them cope with their current situation in a small way.
When I originally wrote the script, I based each of the main characters on one of the stages of grief (denial, guilt, anger, etc.) as a way to express how different people would handle a crisis. Whether it's a terrorist attack or a pandemic, it's still interesting to see how different people respond to being quarantined, and for me, it's interesting to see how people can watch the movie and either relate to a certain character for their reaction to the disaster and/or hate a certain character for their reaction to the disaster.
WY: What was the genesis of this project?
TB: I had read an article about how the classic 1968 zombie movie Night of the Living Dead had fallen into the public domain due to copyright issues. I had this idea to recut the movie with new footage I'd shoot—basically, keep all the old zombie footage, but shoot new footage of the people trapped inside the house that the zombies are attacking and change the movie into a comedy about a bunch of people gathered for Game Night in 1968, who are then attacked by zombies. I then rewatched Night of the Living Dead and realized how goddamn hard that would be—to fake all this footage. But at that point, I'd fallen in love with the idea of a bunch of self-centered people gathering together and then getting stuck in a house as something terrible happened outside. I'd recently seen a grim drama called Right at Your Door about a man being stuck inside after a dirty bomb attack and thought to myself, what if I made the comedy version of that?
WY: Was it always in your script that David Cross's character turns out to be redacted? For me, he was the character I identified with the most.
TB: On the "grief" spectrum I mentioned earlier, David's character was supposed to represent acceptance. He was the only one who seemed to understand the gravity of the situation and grew to be okay with it, and then in the end, you find out why. I really wanted to have fun with making him the audience surrogate at the beginning of the film—the one you feel a kindred spirit with because he doesn't know anyone else at the brunch, just like you, the audience, don't, then totally flip it on you at the end. David crushed it, taking on the role of the straight man for most of the movie before finally cutting loose.
WY: To me, the conclusion of sorts in It's a Disaster is kind of like a comedic variation of the "ending" of John Sayles's brilliant Limbo (1999), which, like the title, left you in limbo. That "ending" felt right, and so does yours. Rachel Boston's final line gets a huge laugh. Did you play around with different conclusions, or was that set in stone from the beginning?
TB: That was always the original ending, from the very first draft. It's why the first conversation in the movie, between David Cross and Julia Stiles in the car, is about how awkward it is when a song abruptly cuts out right when it gets to the good part, leaving some people feeling uncomfortable with no resolution. I had been seeing so many indie dramas that had completely abrupt endings with no conclusion and had been thinking, why can't a comedy do this? And yeah, I realized the entire movie audience would be thinking, where the hell are they going with this? I knew no answer would satisfy everyone, so why not leave it up to their own imagination? And all the cast/crew who read the script loved the ending. In fact, when David Cross first read it, he told me something like, "If you change the ending because some producer or financier tells you it needs a different ending, I'm out." He was sort of joking, but not really.
WY: Personally, one of the biggest laughs for me is the scene when Stiles's character berates the dying couple outside for always being late.
TB: Isn't art a way for artists to express their feelings about issues facing the world? Now you know how I feel about people who are always late.
It's a Disaster is a smart comedy, and I love it, and re-watching it did relieve me of some stress during this dark time. The movie is available on many streaming platforms, including Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, and iTunes.
Watch trailer here.