Although it eventually throws more balls in the air than it can easily juggle, Flirting with Disaster is, most of the time, a diabolically clever satire that has its way with any number of contemporary shiboleths.
Expanding upon the insights into dysfunctional families writer-director David O. Russell served up in his promising but uneven first feature, Spanking the Monkey, this whacked-out road comedy about a young man’s search for his real parents takes any number of unexpected turns, most of them bitingly funny.
Mel Coplin (Ben Stiller) is a young New York dad who decides he can’t name his four-month-old son without having met his biological parents. Despite the objections of his loudly overbearing adoptive parents (George Segal, Mary Tyler Moore), Mel, his moody wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette), and infant son fly to San Diego along with adoption agency shrink Tina (Tea Leoni), a hot number tense over her impending divorce.
But their stay in California is brief. As the trip progresses, relations between Mel and Nancy go from strained to dire, and everyone’s heads are sent spinning when they arrive at the sprawling desert home of Richard and Mary Schlicting (Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin). Troubles mount when Mel’s New York folks, thinking he’s in trouble, show up as well.
By the final reel or so, a bit of strain is detectable in the film’s determined eccentricity. Still, the laughs fly thick and fast through most of this oddball odyssey, in which parents of the last two generations are shown no quarter. Russell has fun puncturing what’s left of ’60s cultural mores.
Cast is aces across the board.