MOVIE REVIEW: “Flirting with Disaster” stars Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty , Zoolander), Patricia Arquette (True Romance, Boyhood), Téa Leoni (The Family Man, Jurassic Park III), Mary Tyler Moore (Ordinary People, The Mary Tyler Moore Show [TV series]), George Segal (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Look Who’s Talking), Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, Avengers: Infinity War), Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods, The Shape of Water), Alan Alda (M*A*S*H [TV series], Marriage Story ), Lily Tomlin (Nashville , Grandma ), Celia Weston (Knight and Day, Hulk ), and Glenn Fitzgerald (The Sixth Sense, The Ice Storm). It is written and directed by David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle). A new father (Stiller) sets out on a wild trip with his wife (Arquette) and an adoption agent (Leoni) to meet his birth parents before he names his son.
David O. Russell has garnered a great deal of success in the latter years of his career, generating Oscar buzz (and wining awards) through projects like “The Fighter,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle,” and “Joy.” It always fascinates me to see the growth of a filmmaker over the span of their career, especially when I get the chance to see some of their earlier works long after they have made a name for themself. Such is the case with one of Russell’s 90’s flicks, “Flirting with Disaster,” a black comedy juggernaut sporting big names, odd laughs, and a crazy story.
I’m always down to watch a movie with Ben Stiller in it. He plays a likeable lead, whether he is the hero, villain, or somewhere in between. In “Flirting with Disaster,” Stiller is directed by Russell to portray another everyman, but with a unique circumstance: he finally gets to meet his birth parents, and won’t name is four-month-old son until he learns of where he came from. The story has the makings of something dramatic, but instead chooses to take a comedic route, creating a series of wacky scenarios that either raised an eyebrow or had me bursting with laughter.
Like a lot of Russell’s flicks, “Flirting with Disaster” leans into the dysfunctional, “should I laugh?” comedy that only becomes more hectic as the story progresses. Littered with several talented performers, I was particularly in awe over the combination of artists on-screen. Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Alan Alda, Patricia Arquette, Josh Brolin, Lily Tomlin, Richard Jenkins, Téa Leoni. My gosh, the bulk of this movie’s budget had to go to casting, for sure. Everyone had a weird sense about them, often shooting for big, exaggerative performances that are only given permission by the even more wild narrative that Russell paints. I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of the scenes were improvised, at least when it came to the reactions of characters with the given scenario. The movie makes a ton of crazy twists and turns, and revels in a “in the moment” approach.
Honestly, I had no idea what I was getting into, from the first frame to the last. Most of the time I spent with this picture, I was trying to figure out what exactly it was looking to do. That’s not to say that was bad, but merely that the entire film rides by the seat of its pants. Where does Stiller’s Mel end up? Does he go all in with the adoption agent? Does he establish a great connection with his birth parents? Where do these detectives (played by Brolin and Jenkins) fit into all of this? There’s a ton of elements that shape this narrative, whether for better or worse. If there’s anything to gripe about this movie, it would be how the adventure never feels sure of itself. Russell understands his comedy and establishes a tone early on. However, the plot itself bobs and weaves to a point where I get restless. Ideas are suggested and dropped, arcs are created and dashed away in the blink of an eye. Such is the case with a lot of comedy, but with “Flirting with Disaster,” I never really got a handle on it fully.
There’s plenty to admire about this movie, whether it be the actors or wild situations that give way to laughter, but at the end of the day, “Flirting with Disaster” could’ve delivered on a more concrete narrative. I’ll remember the jokes, but the plot is something that could have been refined. Regardless, if you are into black comedies, this one has nice set-ups and solid acting to get a few laughs. FINAL SCORE: 74%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: