×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Flirting with Disaster

Continuing and 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. The uniformly neurotic characters in this withering farce cross the generational and sexual spectrums, from vaguely Gen-X new parents and empowerment-seeking young femmes to New Agers, druggies, former hippies and Hell's Angels.

With:
Mel Coplin ... Ben Stiller Nancy Coplin ... Patricia Arquette Tina Kalb ... Tea Leoni Richard Schlicting ... Alan Alda Mrs. Coplin ... Mary Tyler Moore Mr. Coplin ... George Segal Mary Schlicting ... Lily Tomlin Tony ... Josh Brolin Paul ... Richard Jenkins Valerie Swaney ... Celia Weston Lonnie Schlicting ... Glenn Fitzgerald Jane ... Beth Ostrosky Sandra ... Cynthia Lamontagne Fritz Boudreau ... David Patrick Kelly Mitch ... John Ford Noonan B&B Lady ... Charlet Oberly 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 shibboleths. A lively, offbeat ensemble cast, combined with a hot critical reaction, should put this over strongly with hip-seeking viewers from 25 up.

Continuing and 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. The uniformly neurotic characters in this withering farce cross the generational and sexual spectrums, from vaguely Gen-X new parents and empowerment-seeking young femmes to New Agers, druggies, former hippies and Hell’s Angels.

Pic is about the frightening shallowness of people’s convictions and the difficulty of making responsible, informed decisions about life-determining matters when young, but it offers no assurances that people grow wiser with age.

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. A mirthful note is struck from the outset, as, in a snappy opening montage, he imagines countless strangers on the Manhattan streets as his potential folks.

Despite the objections of his loudly overbearing adoptive parents (George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore) –“Why does he have to do this ‘Roots’ thing?” his mother cries — 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. They follow a new lead to snowy Michigan, where a scary former biker (David Patrick Kelly, in show-stopping form) lets on that his old lady back in the Bay area is Mel’s mother, but that another dude is his old man.

As the trip progresses, relations between Mel and Nancy go from strained to dire, as Mel develops an irrational but believable passion for the svelte, sharp-dressing Tina, while Nancy, still singing the postpartum blues, lets Tony fill the void left by her husband’s inattention.

But everyone’s heads are sent spinning when they arrive at the sprawling desert home of Richard and Mary Schlicting (Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin). Trouble piles on top of trouble when Mel’s New York folks, thinking he’s in trouble, show up as well.

Russell’s entire game plan is posited upon confounding expectations and then pushing the resulting unanticipated collisions to their furthest extremes. This approach gives birth to any number of utterly fresh, hilariously absurd scenes and makes this the polar opposite of the usual earnest, sympathy-hungry, heart-tugging tale about an adopted kid searching for real parents.

As bracing and original as it may be, there also is something a tad calculated about such a strategy, a feeling that surfaces only when the comedy isn’t clicking, which to Russell’s credit, rarely happens. However, 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 past two generations are shown no quarter. The sexual humor , springing initially from the trouble Mel and Nancy have had jumpstarting their sex life post-baby, is pointed and true, and Russell has fun puncturing what’s left of ’60s cultural mores.

Cast is aces across the board, with Stiller befuddled by, but also complicit in, the complications that develop, Arquette very believably distracted and infuriated, and Leoni a coiled spring waiting to snap. Segal and Moore, and Alda and Tomlin, as the two sets of parents, bring their skills and tremendous iconographic status to bear to wonderful effect, and supporting turns down the line are unerringly on the money.

Tech contributions are solid.

Flirting with Disaster

(Comedy -- Color)

Production: A Miramax release of a Dean Silvers production. Produced by Silvers. Executive producers, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein. Co-producer, Kerry Orent. Co-executive producer, Trea Hoving. Directed, written by David O. Russell.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor; Deluxe prints), Eric Edwards; editor, Christopher Tellefsen; music, Stephen Endelman; production design, Kevin Thompson; art direction, Judy Rhee; set decoration, Ford Wheeler; costume design, Ellen Lutter; sound (Dolby), Rolf Pardula; associate producer, Christopher Goode; assistant director, Todd Pfeiffer; casting, Ellen Parks, Risa Bramon Garcia. Reviewed at Sunset Screening Room, L.A., March 18, 1996. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 92 min.

With: Mel Coplin ... Ben Stiller Nancy Coplin ... Patricia Arquette Tina Kalb ... Tea Leoni Richard Schlicting ... Alan Alda Mrs. Coplin ... Mary Tyler Moore Mr. Coplin ... George Segal Mary Schlicting ... Lily Tomlin Tony ... Josh Brolin Paul ... Richard Jenkins Valerie Swaney ... Celia Weston Lonnie Schlicting ... Glenn Fitzgerald Jane ... Beth Ostrosky Sandra ... Cynthia Lamontagne Fritz Boudreau ... David Patrick Kelly Mitch ... John Ford Noonan B&B Lady ... Charlet Oberly 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 shibboleths. A lively, offbeat ensemble cast, combined with a hot critical reaction, should put this over strongly with hip-seeking viewers from 25 up.

More Film

  • Nicole Kidman Meryl Streep

    Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman to Star in Ryan Murphy's 'The Prom' at Netflix

    Ryan Murphy enlisted a star-studded cast for his upcoming Netflix movie “The Prom,” an adaptation of the Tony-nominated Broadway musical. Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Awkwafina, James Corden, Ariana Grande, Keegan-Michael Key and Andrew Rannells are among the A-listers bringing “The Prom” to screens. “The Prom” follows a lesbian student in the fictional conservative town of [...]

  • Viktor Dvorak, Anna Geislerova Join Vaclav

    Viktor Dvorak, Anna Geislerova Join Václav Havel Biopic

    Viktor Dvorak has been cast in “Havel,” a biopic of Václav Havel, as the Czech playwright, dissident and national leader. Anna Geislerova, who starred in Oscar nominated “Zelary,” plays his wife, Olga Havlova. Jiri Bartoska, the president of Karlovy Vary Film Festival, will appear in the film as “Professor,” inspired by Czech philosopher Jan Patocka. [...]

  • Daniel Craig

    'Bond 25' First Footage Sees Daniel Craig Back as 007

    After suffering a series of setbacks, including finding a new director and Daniel Craig’s on-set injury, “Bond 25” production is officially underway. A new behind-the-scenes clip of the upcoming James Bond film features Craig and helmer Cary Joji Fukunaga at work in the Caribbean. The minute-long footage didn’t reveal much about the still-untitled movie, though [...]

  • (L to R) Marco Graf as

    ‘Roma,’ ‘The Good Girls’ Top Mexico’s Ariel Academy Awards

    The Mexican Academy of Arts and Cinematographic Sciences hosted the 61st edition of their Ariel Awards on Monday evening, where Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” and Alejandra Márquez Abella’s “The Good Girls” stood out among the winners. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Cuarón’s “Roma” scooping best picture is that it’s only the second of his films to [...]

  • The Eight Hundred (The 800)

    Already Pulled From Shanghai Festival, 'The Eight Hundred' Cancels Its China Release

    Already pulled from its prestigious spot as the opener of the Shanghai International Film Festival, war epic “The Eight Hundred” has been dealt a further below with the cancellation of its scheduled release in China next week. In a terse announcement on its official Weibo account, the film said late Tuesday that, “after consultation between [...]

  • Méndez Esparza, Fernando Franco, Villaronga Projects

    Projects By Mendez Esparza, Fernando Franco and Villaronga at Small Is Biutiful

    Antonio Méndez Esparza’s “Que nadie duerma,” Fernando Franco’s “La consagración de la primavera” and Agustí Villaronga’s “3.000 obstáculos” figure among the seven projects to be pitched at Paris’ Small Is Biutiful forum. The closing event for the alternative Spanish film festival Dífferent 12!, Small Is Biutiful takes place June 26, bringing together French distributors and [...]

  • Judi Dench

    Judi Dench Says Works by Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey Should Be Respected

    Veteran British star Judi Dench has said that the work produced by Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey should be separated from the offenses they are alleged to have committed. Both Weinstein and Spacey face charges of sexual assault in the U.S., which they deny, and have been investigated in other jurisdictions as well, including Britain. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content