Flirting with Disaster

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 09/19/02 13:20:01

"Surprisingly hilarious from start to finish."
5 stars (Awesome)

How can you go wrong with a cast list that reads Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Lily Tomlin, Alan Alda, George Segal, Mary Tyler Moore… okay, maybe it tails off a little towards the end of that list, but Flirting With Disaster is a great flick. Think of it as Home For The Holidays, only with everybody traveling across the USA. Fun!

Ben Stiller plays Mel, who was adopted out as a child but is in search for his parents so he can connect with his true identity. His wife (Patricia Arquette) has recently given birth and is feeling a little emotional, but nowhere near the level of emotion that neurotic Mel suffers through every day of his existence. Throw in a psychology student (Tea Leoni) who’s wishes to document the ‘meeting’, a pair of foster parents (Segal and Tyler Moore) that could milk sour, a couple of gay cops and a series of misadventures and what you have is a really enjoyable off-the-wall comedy.

Stiller, still yet to crack it as a big star when this film came out, is entirely at home in this kind of neuroses and controlled bedlam. Whether he’s trying to talk his way out of a brief tonsil hockey session with the psychology student or deal with the fact that his parents are drug dealers, Stiller mixes in equal parts rage, depression and utter desperation to portray the kind of guy we all wish we weren’t. Patty Arquette, with an abundance of flesh and underwear and breast-feeding and her own peculiar brand of neuroses, is the kind of wife we all wish we could get stuck with, only deep down we’re glad we didn’t. Kind of. I think.

Director David O. Russell (Three Kings, Spanking the Monkey) keeps the pace fast and the dialogue strong, and his cast of characters does the rest. From the image of Josh Brolin licking Patty Arquette’s armpit to the twin amazon beach volleyballers that Stiller alllllllmost finds he’s related to, things just go from weird to weirder. Particularly hilarious are Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda as a couple of folks who would be true blue, American as apple pie, great parents… if it weren’t for the chemical drug lab in their cellar.

The screenplay unfurls like a Woody Allen comedy as written by Charlie Kaufman. It goes right into the insecurities and quirks that every family possesses and rather than cry about our families’ faults, it celebrates them, shrugs them off and says “what are ya gonna do?”

Funny from the first five minutes right through to the end, David O. Russell’s Flirting With Disaster is a pleasant surprise that most anyone should have a lot of fun watching. Hell, Tea Leoni will actually make you laugh - and that’s a rare thing indeed.

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