MOVIE REVIEW | Flirting With Disaster (1996)


“Every marriage is vulnerable, otherwise being married wouldn’t mean anything, would it?”

In a time when it seems like all David O Russell movies are guaranteed nominations for most of the stars and the director at Oscar time, it’s hard to remember that he wasn’t always a critical and box office favourite. Before movies like The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, there was the underrated curiosity of I Heart Huckabees and the deserved movie nerd favourite Three Kings. But before all that, Russell had a knack for making dark comedies with terribly generic romantic comedy titles. Titles like Spanking the Monkey and Flirting With Disaster.

Mel (Ben Stiller) and Nancy (Patricia Arquette) are new parents. And while their son is several months old, Mel refuses to give him a name until he discovers more about his own past by tracking down his birth parents. An idea his adopted parents, the perfectly cast George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore, think is ludicrous. But they’re the kind of parents who still try to support these ludicrous notions. They just do it in that overbearing, loving way that only the best movie and sitcom parents can.

With the help of adoption agency employee Tina (Tea Leoni), they set out on a road trip to meet Mel’s parents. Due to a series of increasingly broad and increasingly hilarious mishaps, there are a few false starts along the way, and run ins with several people who could be Mel’s parents. Including Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin as ex acid-fuelled flower children, Richard and Mary Schlichting. Add to that Josh Brolin as an ex school friend of Nancy, along with his husband (played by Richard Jenkins) and the madcappery is pushed to excruciating limits you thought never even existed.

And I mean “excruciating” in a good way. Flirting With Disaster spends so much of its running time in the absolute verge of flying off the rails, that it’s almost exhausting to watch. The over lapping dialogue where everyone only listens just enough to get the wrong idea, then have that wrong idea confirmed over and over again. The squirmy nature of characters contemplating affairs because it seems like they should want it to happen, even if they don’t really feel it. The immediacy that new relationships are formed and totally committed to based on the flimsiest of premises. Every character is so desperate to make connections, they never stop to think about anything first.

Flirting With Disaster is one of those deceptive movies that looks like a silly, slapped together mess, but once you look a little harder, you can see how expertly and meticulously it was constructed. It’s that expert, meticulous construction that means Flirting With Disaster can actually stay standing under the immense weight of all of that wackiness. David O Russell may still find ways to sneak some silliness into his movies, but in 1996, it looks like he was having a lot more fun, and worrying a little less about the prestige.

Flirting With Disaster
Directed By – David O. Russell
Written By – David O. Russell

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