Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Flirting with Disaster
Written and directed by David O. Russell, Flirting with Disaster is the story of a man who goes on a road trip with his wife and newborn baby to find his biological parents with the help of an adoption agency employee as others join in on the search. The film is an offbeat comedy that plays into a man’s need to find his real parents as he copes with idea of parenthood as well as his own marriage as he becomes attracted towards the adoption agency employee. Starring Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Tea Leoni, Josh Brolin, Richard Jenkins, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Glenn Fitzgerald, Alan Alda, and Lily Tomlin. Flirting with Disaster is a witty and whimsical film from David O. Russell.
The film is the simple story of a neurotic man whose inability to name his newborn child forces him to try and find his biological parents to find out who he is as he is aided by an adopted agency employee whom he becomes attracted to. It plays into a man in his search for his own identity and roots where he is joined by his wife on a trip to find his real parents but bad information and incompetence lead to several setbacks with others joining this man’s adventure to find his real parents. David O. Russell’s screenplay has a unique narrative structure as it follows the journey of Mel Coplin (Ben Stiller) who is given news that the identity of his biological mother has been found. Mel’s wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) joins Mel out of support as she takes their newborn baby with them despite the protests of Mel’s adoptive parents in Ed and Pearl Coplin (George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore, respectively) who feel unhappy by the news. Joining them is the adoptive agency employee Tina (Tea Leoni) who wants to record the event as she and Mel become attracted to each other.
Russell’s direction does have elements of style in the way he captures the journey of a neurotic man as it is shot on various locations in New York City as well as parts of San Diego, Arizona, and a couple of places in Michigan such as Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. While there are moments where Russell would use wide shots for some of the locations and scenes that play into the characters inside a home which includes a key moment in the first act that has Mel meeting a woman who could be his mother. Much of Russell’s compositions would rely on medium shots and close-ups in the way characters interact including scenes that include Nancy’s old high school friend Tony Kent (Josh Brolin) who is an ATF agent with a partner both at work and in life in Paul Harmon (Richard Jenkins) as they both join the trip during its second half.
The film’s third act doesn’t just play into absurd humor but also in light drama as it relates to the tension that is looming in Mel and Nancy’s marriage with the former being attracted to Tina and the latter being nurtured by Tony. It also play into the eventual meeting of another prospect of who could be Mel’s real parents in Richard and Mary Schlichting (Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin, respectively) who also have a younger son in Lonnie (Glenn Fitzgerald) who is angry about the idea of having an older brother. The meeting would be a mixture of humor and chaos as well as an aftermath that would later involve all sorts of shenanigans and drama that is happening. Overall, Russell creates a witty yet exhilarating film about a man trying to find his identity in his search for his biological parents with others joining him in a chaotic journey.
Cinematographer Eric Alan Edwards does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it is largely straightforward to play into the different looks of the location including the scenes in Michigan with its snow and the sunnier look of New Mexico in the daytime. Editor Christopher Tellefsen does brilliant work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts and other rhythmic cuts to play into the humor. Production designer Kevin Thompson, with art director Judy Rhee plus set decorators Susan Block and Ford Wheeler, does fantastic work with the look of the different homes that Mel and his entourage encounter from the home of a woman in San Diego with her glass figurines to the stylish home and art work of the couple he meets in New Mexico.
Costume designer Ellen Lutter does nice work with the costumes as it play into the personality of the characters from the casual look of Mel and Nancy to the sexy, business-like look of Tina and the more hippie look of the Schlichtings. Sound designer Wendy Hedin does terrific work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the different locations in the film. The film’s music by Stephen Endelman does wonderful work with the sound as it is largely low-key in its folk music presentation while music supervisor Bonnie Greenberg provides a fun soundtrack that mixes rock, pop, country, and alternative music from acts like Southern Culture on the Skids, Cake, Urge Overkill, Dr. John with Angela McCluskey, Dean Martin, Inch, Carl Perkins, and the Grateful Dead.
The casting by Risa Bramon Garcia and Ellen Parks is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Cynthia LaMontagne and Beth Stern as twin women who are the daughters of a woman in San Diego, David Patrick Kelly as a trucker in Michigan who might be Mel’s father, Celia Weston as Valerie Swaney as the woman from San Diego who might be Mel’s mother, and Glenn Fitzgerald as Lonnie Schlichting as a young man who might be Mel’s brother who doesn’t like Mel at all as he’s overly rude and jealous towards him. Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin are fantastic in their respective roles as Richard and Mary Schlichting as a couple from New Mexico who might be Mel’s biological parents as they’re hippie artists that are fascinated by Mel while being those who prefer to live a life of isolation away from the conventions of society. Richard Jenkins and Josh Brolin are superb in their respective roles as the ATF agents Paul Harmon and Tony Kent as a gay couple who join Mel and his entourage in the journey with Jenkins as the more reluctant of the duo as he would later have a bad encounter with drugs while Brolin is more carefree as he tries to renew his friendship with Nancy in odd ways.
Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal are excellent in their respective roles as Mel’s adoptive parents in Pearl and Ed Coplin with Moore being very funny in dealing with her son’s neuroses and wear some skimpy yet sexy underwear while Segal is more low-key as someone who is just as neurotic as Mel. Tea Leoni is brilliant as Tina Kalb as a recently-divorced adoption agency employee who wants to document Mel’s reunion with his biological parents as she becomes attracted to Mel only to realize that she’s hiding her own issues as it relates to her incompetence and failure in life. Patricia Arquette is amazing as Nancy Coplin as Mel’s wife who joins him on the journey as she finds herself neglected forcing her to turn to Tony for attention with weird results. Finally, there’s Ben Stiller in a remarkable performance as Mel Coplin as a man who is eager to find out who his parents are as it play into his anxiety over who he is and his inability to name his newborn son that would also prompt him to be attractive towards Tina that would become chaotic as it’s a witty performance from Stiller.
Flirting with Disaster is an incredible film from David O. Russell. Featuring a great cast, an offbeat yet funny premise, and its study of identity and anxiety. It’s a film that play into some of ideas of a man’s journey that would devolve into chaos as well as revelations about himself. In the end, Flirting with Disaster is a sensational film from David O. Russell.
David O. Russell Films: Spanking the Monkey – Three Kings - I Heart Huckabees – The Fighter - Silver Linings Playbook - American Hustle - Accidental Love - Joy (2015 film) - The Auteurs #70: David O. Russell
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