By Caryn James | James on Screens April 10, 2013 at 9:15AM
An offbeat little gem of a black-comedy, It's a Disaster is the kind of film that plays much better than it sounds like it should. It's another end-of-the-world (maybe) ensemble piece, but the deft writing and directing by Todd Berger and the straight-faced comic acting by America Ferrera, David Cross and Julia Stiles make it all feel fresh.
The movie begins as a comedy of manners with eight friends at a regular "couples brunch " - even the term they use sounds claustrophobic - at the home of one of the couples. The hosts have been married for eight years, another couple has been engaged forever, another is on their third date.
Their interactions are witty enough, but a half-hour in they get word of a dirty bomb attack nearby. I won't say whether the bomb went off or they were misinformed; without electricity or cell phone service, they don't know themselves for a good long time. But as they wait for the local apocalypse, they ratchet up and act out their neuroses. Ferrera is a standout as a sensible teacher who raids the medicine cabinet and heads to the kitchen to cook up an escapist recipe. Cross is deadpan wonderful as the calm, accommodating history teacher who reveals an unexpected personality trait on his third date with the doctor played by Stiles.
Berger, an actor and part of the comedy group The Vacationeers, doesn't entirely avoid the pitfalls of ensemble comedies. What is the tattooed wild-child couple doing at brunch? Straining for a variety of characters is a more plausible reason than long-standing friendship. But Berger's sure hand as a director smooths over the holes (it's an end-of-the-world comedy; of course there are holes), carrying us on with goofball touches, from a radio that looks like a monkey to someone's hidden belief in the Rapture.
It's a Disaster is now on VOD and opens in NY on Friday. There are many tiny mediocrities out there; this film is a real find.
Here's a trailer, with Berger as the neighbor in a hazmat suit.