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Miramax Collector's Series
MPAA Rating: R (For Language, Sexuality and a Comic Drug Scene)
Running Time: 93 minutes
Starring: Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Téa Leoni, Alan Alda, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Lily Tomlin, Richard Jenkins
Written and Directed by: David O. Russell
Retail Price: $19.99
Features: Deleted Scenes, Featurette, Outtakes
Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scenes (15 Scenes)
Released: June 1st, 2004
Mel and Nancy Coplin (Ben Stiller and Patricia Arquette) are a married couple facing tension with an inactive sex life, and trouble naming their new baby boy. Mel, who is adopted, has a midlife crisis of some kind and thinks he'll be at peace with himself - and will be able to finally name the baby - once he meets his birth parents. But that's easier said than done, as Mel's road trip to find out who his parents are spins wildly out of control. Joining him on the trip is his adoption counselor Tina (Teá Leoni), and later on, two police detectives (Josh Brolin and Richard Jenkins) - one of which Nancy has a connection to it. Nothing at all goes right or as planned, and with that said, the characters may be flirting with something other than disaster.
"Flirting With Disaster" is a screwball comedy in the absolute best sense, and it's a wonderful one to boot. Writer and director David O. Russell proves with his second feature that he is the master at giving us the unexpected in the most simple, and even mundane, circumstances. Mel's quest to find his biological parents seems pretty simple at first, but it's far from it. If you think getting the wrong birth mother is as bad as it gets, it's really how things begin. This leads to a bizarre mugging which then halts into a post office being destroyed, and finally to hippies with LSD on their hands. Those are some big moments, but it's not the entire story - and each of those portions have a lot to them.
The laughs in the movie are not only very creative, but they feel incredibly natural. Having natural comedy is hard to attain, since a lot of times it can be - or at least seem - forced and having jokes or instances just for the sake of it. But the film's story lends itself to a lot of natural laughs, which includes mistaken identities, slapstick humor and some hilarious dialogue exchanges that are so fitting (Mel's adoptive parents talking or the argument over bed and breakfasts are howlingly funny). It's almost hard to put it all into words, since all the movies' characters not only play important roles that affect things, but they come together and end up intertwining through a series of coincidences and crucial moments. Words cannot do the movie's funny moments justice since it really needs to be seen. The film is like a snowball rolling down a hill: it grows bigger and bigger and can't be stopped. And as it gets bigger and more crazy, somehow, it gets even better.
And while the film is hilarious, Russell gives it a lot of human touches. When we aren't laughing, the film wonderfully resonates on real and important issues about love and family. The film does have a heart to it, and there are other issues to be resolved than Mel finding his birth parents and what to name his baby. There are subtle moments that build up and come on strong, such as how having a child can affect relationships and the risks of losing a loved one when it comes to temptation and exploring intimacy. There is also a lot on how family is part of your identity, and while Mel seeks to find his true family, he comes to realize they won't change the people in his life now, how they have affected him and who he has become. Family consists of people who love you unconditionally and will do the best for you no matter what - and in the film, we certainly see who Mel's real family is.
Besides Mel's journey that gets increasingly more wacky, Russell puts on some strong character developments. There is certainly a chemistry between Mel and Tina, but Tina - going through a bitter divorce - is looking for some action and a man to make her feel special. Nancy gets temptations of her own from a football player who she knew in high school, who's now a bisexual cop working on a crime fiction novel with relationship problems of his own. But it's these instances that develop through the movie, and do put Nancy and Mel's hindered love to the test. Like Russell's knack for comedy, his development of the characters and the situations are very natural too.
Elevating all of this is the brilliant cast. Ben Stiller leads the way as Mel, and gives a performance that many people would come to typecast him as: a whiny, insecure neurotic. Even though I think Stiller is a comedic genius, it's true that a lot of his more popular film roles have him as the whiny, insecure neurotic. But Stiller is in top shape here, since there's a lot of issues that drive his characters. Stiller doesn't make Coplin annoying, but even a bit subdued as he questions himself and thinks there's something bigger out there involving his roots. Stiller's freeflowing performance isn't bogged down or overdone - it truly ranks as one of his best acting jobs, and can be appreciated more now in compared to other films he's done lately.
Patricia Arquette is perfectly cast as Mel's suffering wife Nancy, and we really do sympathize with the character. Arquette makes Nancy vulnerable and as one who's trying her best, and she shares a fine rapport with Stiller because of their interaction and her support. Leoni gives a career best too here as the chain-smoking Tina. She's sexy and cold, and makes the character really yearn for intimacy and have some connection when it comes to Mel's big moments. Josh Brolin is charming and in-check, and the excellent character actor Richard Jenkins gets some major laughs as Brolin's partner (in more ways than one). Jenkins certainly has great comedic timing.
Certainly though, the teamings of Mel's adoptive and real parents get the most laughs in the movie. Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal play the adoptive ones, who are overprotective and will go on about ridiculous things (especially Moore as the mother). You really believe that Segal and Moore are a married couple here - their delivery is just excellent. Also digging out comedic gold is Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda as Mel's real parents (AKA the hippies). While these two don't consider making drugs a crime at really, they overreact for the wrong reasons (as in caring about themselves and going back to jail). Still, the way the two spurt out their dialogue and quirks it really is nothing but immensely enjoyable.
Upon its original release, "Flirting With Disaster" didn't become the breakout hit it should have nor did it get a bigger life on video. And while Russell has been rising as a director (1999's "Three Kings" was a commercial and critical success, but somehow was snubbed for major awards) and most of the cast has gone on to bigger things, the movie seems to have become a footnote in their careers - which shouldn't be the case. If you've never seen this well-balanced comedy, which I consider one of the most underappreciated films of the 1990s, then it's a must rent - I swear you won't be disappointed.
Certainly a step-up from the original bare-bones DVD release of the movie, "Flirting With Disaster" is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and in pure anamorphic glory. There is some noticeable edge enhancement, as well as some noise and the print isn't clean either - blemishes, specks, dirt pieces and scratches pop up here and there. For the most part though, this transfer remains pretty sharp but at times it's a bit soft and grainy. The image quality is filled with depth though, filled with fabulous fleshtones, pretty solid detail and excellent color saturation - from the city streets, the open roads and even the Coplin's workplace. The transfer certainly keeps up with the changing locations that do vary, and it looks like a lot of effort went into this transfer. It may not be one-hundred percent perfect, but it does beam with a lot of quality.
An English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is included, and it's adequate and fine for the movie. At times I found the track to be very hollow, but the film is mainly talking. With that sound, the dialogue comes in very crisp, clear and just fine. There really isn't much when it comes to surrounds, but now and then some action on Mel's adventure give the rears a jolt (such as an accident with a truck, a "carjacking," a whack of a frying pan or a minor car accident). There's not much to say about the subwoofer, but the film's music comes in decent if plainly through the speakers but it helps add some life to the mix. Nothing bad at all here, but nothing spectacular. A French Dolby Surround track is included, as well as English subtitles and English closed captions.
This is very disappointing. For a DVD subtitled with the Miramax Collector's Series logo, let alone the film's cult rabid of fans, there isn't much offered here. A Featurette is included which was meant for promotional purposes (including on-the-set footage and clips from the movie), but it's decent. The film's principal cast are interviewed (including the bit players), as they talk about what they liked about Russell's story and their thoughts on the film in general. Russell manages some decent comments in his interview setting the movie up, but I still wish for a real commentary by him on this (I wouldn't be surprised if he declined given Harvey Weinstein's reported negative treatment of the movie and him). Too bad this featurette doesn't make much of an impression since it lasts a mere five minutes.
There are three Deleted Scenes (entitled "Hotel," "Warm Water Method" and "Jail") in very shoddy non-anamorphic widescreen and total under five minutes. The scenes are decent and probably could have worked in the movie, and do have some laughs, but were probably cut because they show off things or instances about the characters we already know about and would have overdone it slightly. Topping it off are "Mistakes," or Outtakes as they're usually called. There are about seven minutes worth based on scenes from the film, and a minute-and-a-half's worth from deleted material. There are some giggly moments here that are fun, but I think it's kinda sad that the outtakes are longer than the other two features in separate.
"Flirting With Disaster" is an overlooked comedic gem from the 90s, and while it's nice it's been re-released on DVD with a great transfer and decent sound track, there definitely should have been more extras. It's doubtful that this will get another re-release, but if it does... how about a commentary or new documentary? If you've never seen it and like dark comedies (or the work of David O. Russell - a guy's films who can really get under your skin) it's worth a rent. Fans of the movie may be disappointed with the lack of extras, but given a low retail price, it's worth picking up (especially if you have the older, much inferior version) for at least some goodies and the anamorphic transfer.